While we may think of snow, roast turkeys and squabbling over the best chocolates in the tin as a typical Christmas, there are so many wonderful ways to enjoy the festive season. Across the globe, Christmas is celebrated in unique ways. Some countries and cities embrace tradition, while others have their own contemporary twist. Whether you’re embarking on a cruise to the Canaries to bask in the sunshine, or to shop in Hong Kong’s luxury malls, you can still relish in yuletide joy on your holiday. In this article, we look at how various countries and cities celebrate Christmas around the world.
Christmas in cold, rainy Britain isn’t for everyone. If you’d rather spend the festive season sunbathing, why not head to the Canary Islands? Walk along the sandy shores, take a dip in the beautiful, clear water and forget about the wind and rain back home. If you’re tempted by a Christmas in the sun, but aren’t too sure about letting go of the typical British festivities, the Canaries have some pretty interesting traditions of their own. For example, no festive visit to the islands would be complete without seeing the nativity scene made out of sand on Las Canteras beach in Gran Canaria. In the evenings, you can stroll through the festive markets in Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
What to eat
Many towns in the Canaries host Christmas markets in late December, including food stalls selling cosy food such as ‘truchas’ – a pastry filled with sweet potato and candied pumpkin.
Christmas in the Netherlands is truly magical. Fairy lights glisten in the canals, cosy markets pop up in every town and city and the scent of delicious sweet treats wafts through the air. Unlike most countries, the Netherlands actually has a very important Christmas celebration before December 25th.
The beloved Dutch character Sinterklaas resembles Father Christmas but is actually based on Saint Nicholas, who had close ties with Amsterdam. His annual arrival by boat, supposedly from Spain, is the most highly anticipated event in the festive calendar. Sinterklaas arrives to deliver gifts to children on December 5th and from this day, the festivities really kick off all over the country.
If you’re planning on taking a cruise to Amsterdam to get into the Christmas spirit, you won’t be disappointed. The city is adorned with lights and a huge tree takes pride of places in Dam Square. Traditional and contemporary markets are dotted throughout the capital, offering unique handmade gifts and, of course, delicious Dutch food to keep you cosy.
What to eat
Although not limited to Christmas, it’s recommended that visitors try a gooey stroopwafel, warm poffertjes or a tasty slice of appeltaart. If you’re looking for classic Dutch Christmas treats to enjoy in the city or to take home as gifts, Thijs van Royen, operations manager at Eating Amsterdam Tours, has a few recommendations:
“Sinterklaas is associated with a lot of sweet treats like perpenoten, kruidnoten, gevuld speculaas or marsepein and warme wijn (mulled wine). Also from November onwards you will see a lot of food trucks selling oliebollen and appelflappen, which is associated with New Year.
“In the last decades, Christmas has become very popular and now it is the most important food time of the year. There is no typical Dutch Christmas food so international food like game roast (roulade is popular), salmon, oysters, shrimp cocktail etc. is popular. At home it’s very common to make it ‘gezellig’ (Dutch word meaning cosy) and have a gourmet stone grill or fondue set at the dining table so everyone can make their own food.”
Eating Amsterdam Tours offers visitors the chance to taste their way around the city. The team told us: “We run two tours in the Dutch capital, both in the 17th century Jordaan neighbourhood, Amsterdam’s most picturesque area which is full of history and hidden surprises. Guests on our small tours experience the rich culture, fascinating history, and wonderful people the best way possible – through local cuisine from pickled herring to apple pie.”
Christmas celebrations in Malta are very traditional. Wandering through the capital city of Valletta on your cruise stopover, you should take time to admire the beautiful nativity scenes and displays of cribs, which are typical of a Maltese Christmas. We spoke to Janice Bartolo of Visit Malta about what you can expect from Christmastime in the country:
“Whether you like nativity scenes, carol singing, or shopping in beautifully-lit streets, Christmas in Malta is for you. It is a highly celebrated festivity in the Maltese islands, both for its religious significance as well as in its more secular sense.
“This Christmas in Valletta is going to be spectacular, as the capital city gears itself towards becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2018. There has been great build up towards this date, and the streets of the city are buzzing with activity.
“Those in search for a spiritual evening are invited to join the congregation at St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta for candlelit carol singing. Cribs are positively everywhere, from private houses to small chapels. Visiting cribs is a popular activity and many locals spend time going round touring the various displays. Some are very artistic and elaborate, including small statues moving around mechanically and a degree of detail that comes from hours of meticulous work by dedicated craftsmen.
“A Christmas highlight, which is popular for children and adults alike, is the annual pantomime held at the Manoel Theatre. It's a happy mix of good slapstick humour for children and satire for adults.
“All over the islands, restaurants, hotels, bars and clubs provide their own entertainment in true Maltese style. In short, there is an abundance when it comes to what to do and see in Malta over the Christmas period.”
What to eat
To fully immerse yourself in Malta’s Christmas celebrations, you mustn’t miss out on trying some of the country’s delicious festive food. Qaghaq tal-Ghasel (sweet pastry rings filled with treacle) are a seasonal staple. Wash it down with a cosy cup of imbuljuta tal-qastan – hot chestnut and cocoa soup. Traditionally served after Midnight Mass on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, this is sure to get you feeling festive.
In this bustling metropolis, it comes as no surprise that Christmas is a pretty big deal. Hong Kong’s glamorous shopping malls are given a festive makeover, with some of the biggest Christmas trees found anywhere on earth and, of course, the brightest lights. If you are hoping to get some Christmas shopping done on your cruise, this is certainly the place to be. Although the city can’t offer the most traditional celebrations, there are Christmas markets selling nutcrackers, bratwurst and mulled wine. The main Christmas event in Hong Kong is Winterfest. At Statue Square you’ll find a beautiful Christmas tree, Santa’s grotto and choirs singing festive carols. Winterfest begins on the 1st of December and is completely free!
What to eat
Hong Kong truly embraces international cuisine, so you’ll be able to find exceptional Christmas dinners inspired by cultures from all over the world.
A cruise to the Canaries isn’t your only option for a sunny Christmas, Sydney celebrates the holidays in the middle of their summer. Despite the fact that you’ll be basking in temperatures of around 26 degrees, Sydney still pulls out all the stops when it comes to traditional Christmas festivities. Expect Christmas markets and lights, as well as carolling. If you’re keen to embrace the climate, join in with the locals by having a beach barbecue and taking a dip in the sea.
What to eat
Ham is the main event at an Australian Christmas feast, traditionally glazed with honey, maple or apricot. Along with Christmas pudding, ‘White Christmas’ (a uniquely Australian dessert) is well worth a try. The no-bake slice is made of Copha, desiccated coconut, dried fruit and rice bubbles breakfast cereal. Seafood such as prawns are also not uncommon at Australian Christmas meals.