For those of us that celebrate Christmas, it is usually a time for family and tradition, and it’s often the element of routine that makes it so special. For me an English Christmas day is spent round a warm log fire surrounded by family, followed by a traditional roast turkey dinner and then a countryside walk with the dogs. But what happens when you’re away from home? A lot of us will never sacrifice such an important holiday, but here’s why you should, at least once, break away from the norm and spend Christmas abroad. Below, 7 Travellers reveal their most memorable Christmas away from home…
[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ast Christmas was quite different for me from what I have been used to my whole life, always spending the holidays in Chicago. My sister and I travelled there together, so it was nice to have some family with me. In December 2013, I was in Livingstone, Zambia, half way around the world spending my first Christmas away from home!
What is the best thing about spending Christmas abroad? Being able to give back for a change. To give you some context, I travelled to Zambia to volunteer on a teaching and community development program. Instead of being with family and receiving gifts, I was able to contribute to the Livingstone community. I spent my days teaching the children in the community at “Holiday Club,” which is when their regular teachers are off from work and they would otherwise not be in school if it weren’t for the volunteers. The warm weather was also a perk as well. Can’t say I missed the bitter Chicago winters.
What did you miss the most about home? Being away from home was still difficult. I missed being with my family the most since I have always spent the holidays with them. Not eating my family’s home cooked Christmas dinner was also a downer for me, but I was still able to spend Christmas with a great group of volunteers and enjoy a delicious barbecued meal.
What is your next dream Christmas destination? I would love to spend Christmas in Edinburgh, Scotland. I visited for the first time in early summer of 2012, and have wanted to return ever since. I can only imagine how beautiful Edinburgh Castle would be during Christmas time surrounded by lights and fresh snow.
I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas away form home. We were spending a family Christmas in Queensland, Australia, in an unbearable 40 degrees Celsius. I wasn’t looking forward to leaving behind our English winter, open fires and roast turkey 15,200 miles behind me.
What is the best thing about spending Christmas abroad? The plus to being ‘down under’ was seeing extended family at Christmas, it definitely makes you realise what Christmas is truly all about! Not to mention the endless seafood, champagne and snorkelling. Although I love a cold Christmas at home, I loved having three full summers in a row, you can’t beat that!
What did you miss the most about home? I would say that I missed the beautiful tradition of an English Christmas, the hot roast dinner, midnight mass at our local church, and wrapping up warm for a Christmas Day family walk. It’s the little things that you have experienced every Christmas day of your life since you were born that make Christmas individual to you!
I am becoming more and more addicted to the Christmas spirit. The build up is almost as good as the day itself with so many loved rituals involved in organising the big day, from the Christmas Eve panic shopping to making a good old boozy Christmas fruit-cake. The one thing about living in England is that I tend to be surrounded by cynics that only reply with ‘humbug’ every time I open my mouth.
What is your next dream Christmas destination? I would like to spend one Christmas in New York where Americans fully embrace ‘the season to be jolly’, a place where I can let my obsession run a little wild. Even if only the once!
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
[dropcap]D[/dropcap]on’t tell my family, but this was the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever had – and there wasn’t a turkey or Christmas tree in sight. For a Christmas break in 2011 from my teaching job in Korea, a group of friends and I decided to head to Vietnam. Accustomed to being on the opposite side of the world from Canada, I was more excited to spend Christmas in a foreign country than I missed being at home. Actually, I didn’t miss home at all.
On Christmas day, we woke up early to do a tour of the Ku Chi Tunnel system the Viet Cong built during the war. It was an unforgettable and exciting learning experience, which was concluded with the chance to shoot an AK-47 and an M-16.
For Christmas dinner, we found some directions to a special restaurant that served cobra. Little did we know they had bat as well. We picked out some cobras and bats and began the process. The cobra blood was mixed with a whisky, which was poured over the beating heart into my shot glass. I gulped down the shot quickly, and we proceeded with the two meats cooked in several ways. The cobra was chewy, but the bat? One of the tastiest meats I’ve tried!
What did you miss the most about home? Spending Christmas in another country is in some ways a big sacrifice, and in other ways a big gain. You give up your traditions to learn new ones – which is a valuable learning experience. Spending it with friends rather than family is a sad reality of long term travel. No regrets.
What is your next dream Christmas destination? My next Christmas destination would be Iceland to meet my unborn nephew/niece and do a photography driven road trip.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]wo years ago my family, husband and 3 boys aged 13, 9, and 5, and I were fortunate enough to spend Christmas in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We had just recently embarked on a long term nomadic trip and could not have been farther from home, which was originally in Connecticut in the North East section of the United States.
Growing up in New England one familiar for the holidays is cold and snow! We had been missing that for years since we lived in Costa Rica so when we discovered that the zoo in Chiang Mai had a snow globe room we decided that was the best way to spend the day. We went sledding, threw snowballs, and froze our butts off…it was great! And as a bonus got to see lots of beautiful animals as well. We fed giraffes and cuddled baby elephants, what a treat! We finished the day off with ordering the food that each person wanted most and setting off a beautiful lantern, albeit illegally, from our hotel balcony. Out with the old and in with the new!
So how was it in all? At the end of the day my 10 year old grabbed my hand, told me he loved me and thanked me for what he called, “the best Christmas I have ever had!”
What did you miss the most about home? We missed our family and friends but chose to focus on each other and having a unique experience instead! We found it to actually be much more peaceful doing our own thing and not having to fuss over time tables and family politics.
What is your next dream Christmas destination? Next year it will be Oregon for some real snow and cold and maybe even a little family…if they’re good anyway!
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of the most wonderful places to celebrate Christmas is Germany. For the month before Christmas this country turns into never-ending food festival, filling with joy if not hearts than at least stomachs. Perhaps, all of you know famous German brutwurst (sophisticated hot dog), so you can only imagine how great it is with hot wine!
What is the best thing about spending Christmas abroad? Even being drunk from early morning till late at night is not the best part of German holiday season. What leaves much more durable memories is Christmas shopping! Nowhere else you are able to find such beautiful glass toys, paper lamps and Christmas souvenirs as at Christmas market in Erfurt or in Berlin.
What did you miss the most about home? The only thing we really missed in Germany was the spirit of Christmas. No matter whether you are religious or not, this is the holiday of the Birth of Christ, and that is exactly what is totally forgotten in Germany. In comparison to Ukraine, where the religious component is the most important, Germany celebrates Christmas as a secular holiday of gift-giving and wine drinking. Unfortunately, this is a common trend worldwide.
What is your next dream Christmas destination? We would like to spend the next Christmas in tropical country. Enjoying carol singing and tree decorating is much more pleasant when it’s warm! For this winter vacations we are going to Bermuda Islands, hopefully, our dream will come true.
[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ast year, I was in Vienna for Christmas with my girlfriend and her sister. Vienna is a classically beautiful city with imposting architecture and old world charm. I was living in Germany at the time, so I was used to Christmas markets (it seems Gluhwein is on every other corner in German cities), but Vienna takes Christmas to a whole new level. Lights, globes and ornaments are strewn about the entirety of down town, transforming the city into an urban Christmas tree. Add on the typical Viennese cafe culture and Vienna was an ideal spot for us to spend Christmas.
What is the best thing about spending Christmas abroad? The best thing about Christmas away from home is getting to see how other cultures celebrate the holidays. In Vienna, the Christmas markets are the main attraction and families and friends gather at them for an evening filled with good conversation and mulled, hot wine. You also get to taste winter foods that are unique to the area. Kartoffelpuffers with garlic sauce may be the best, little known Christmas snack ever. They are severely addictive.
What did you miss the most about home? I missed my family. I’ve been an expat living in Europe for over 7 years, but I usually fly back to my hometown in the States every Christmas. Last year was the first time I spent it away from hometown. I miss putting up the Christmas tree ornaments with the family and the yearly Christmas party my parents throw.
What is your next dream Christmas destination? Skiing in the Swiss Alps. Apre-Ski plus gifts plus skiing? That can’t be beat in my book.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] moved to Kurdistan, Iraq for work on my own back in December, 2012 just 6 days before Christmas. It was a weird time for me as I didn’t know anyone and I was still adjusting, and although I had been living in the Middle East for over three years before that, the culture was still quite a shock. I was accustomed to celebrating Christmas away from my home and family in the Philippines, but somehow this place felt so much more distant than anywhere else I had been before. I loved the sense of adventure, but felt slightly lost at the same time.
Life however, has a way of giving us what we need when we need it most and within two days I had found there was a small Filipino community there who welcomed me in to their own Christmas celebrations. It was like a little piece of home just when I needed it the most. It’s also times like these that make travelling worthwhile; sometimes the best way to feel the full force of a new culture is to be dropped in at the deep end and completely out of your comfort zone.
What is the best thing about spending Christmas abroad? I love the feeling of being in a culture so completely different to my own, knowing that whatever I’m doing couldn’t possibly be any more different from what’s happening at home.
What did you miss the most about home? My Grandmother’s cooking on Christmas Eve.
What is your next dream Christmas destination? We’ll be spending this Christmas in Bolivia, starting in La Paz before heading out to the Uyuni Salt Flats for our very own version of a White Christmas!
Have you spent Christmas Abroad? Where did you go? Can you recommend somewhere, perhaps your hometown, which has a great Christmas vibe? If so, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below…