Christmas 2017: Must-see festive celebrations around the world
Christmas makes many winter wonderland fantasies come true. While snowfall on December 25 isn’t guaranteed in the United States, many communities across the country go all out to embrace the season, with horse-drawn sleigh rides, to meet-and-greets with real reindeer. Christmas cookies and hot chocolate are a must, and the streets sparkle with brightly coloured lights.
A perfect white Christmas
Chicago, Illinois celebrates Christmas in a big way. A million-plus twinkle lights decorate the 200 hundred trees along the famed Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s most upscale shopping avenue. Nearby, Navy Pier goes all out with a Winter WonderFest that features a massive indoor skating rink. Best of all may be downtown’s Christkindlmarket, which offers holiday shoppers handicrafts such as nutcrackers and ornaments, as well as traditional treats like potato pancakes, bratwurst and glühwein, a warm, spiced holiday wine.
Aspen, Colorado, on the other hand, with 4.5 meters of average annual snowfall, qualifies as a winter wonderland. This Rocky Mountain town, located 319 km southwest of Denver, is famed for sublime skiing and luxurious living, but it’s the charm of Christmas that wins over visitors at this time of year. Kids will love a visit with Santa’s reindeer (yes, real reindeer), as well as free hot chocolate and cookies.
At Taos, New Mexico, the holiday results are pure magic. Yuletide in Taos, as it’s known, marries Spanish traditions, such as the glowing luminarias that grace the historic Ledoux Street, with Mexican traditions such Las Posadas.
At Boston, Massachusetts, history seeps from every cobblestone street, with holiday celebrations taking place citywide. Start with a peek at Boston’s two largest Christmas trees, one in Boston Common, founded in 1634, and the other at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which dates to 1742. At Faneuil Hall, stick around for the 7-minute ‘Blink!’ light show of 350,000 LED lights used to illuminate the skyline.
Old-world markets of Belgium
Across the pond in Europe, the atmosphere is best captured at the festive markets of Bruges, Belgium. At the two-day Christmas Beer festival (Heuvelhal), at Essen, visitors can taste 170 Belgian Christmas and winter beers. The beer list is regarded as one of the best in the world.
At Antwerp, an opening party is hosted in the city centre for all holidaymakers. Drop by at a local market, or get to the ice skating rink at the Groenplaats, or at Steenplein, is the place to be. The city centre at Ghent also turns into a Winter Wonderland, with a skating rink under the City Pavilion. From the giant Ferris wheel in front of St Bavo’s Cathedral, you can enjoy a view of the city.
At Hasselt, the ‘Capital of Taste’, the cosy winter village offers a mobile skating rink, the House of Santa Claus, and a Ferris wheel. For little ones, there’s also a small Christmas train. Santa will live and work in a house built on the Kolonel Dusartplein. This Finnish house is a replica of ‘the Home of Santa Claus’ in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, in northern Finland, Santa’s official residence.
On the Grote Markt, apart from the big lit tree and large crib, there is a unique attraction for young and old: the ‘Hesselse Poepjee’, a Venetian carrousel with two-storeys, painted with real Hasselt tableaus, which will make many a child’s heart beat faster.
London swathed in red and gold
In London, you can go ice skating at Somerset House, soak in the atmosphere at the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, browse through the South Bank market, shop for gifts under the Oxford Street lights and catch the best theatre shows. There’s more: Catch the Warner Bros Studio decked out with ‘Hogwarts in the Snow’. See illuminated silk installations at the Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House, or wander along the botanical gardens at Kew. You can also experience Christmas as it was in Victorian times, at Kensington Palace, before taking a romantic stroll through the colourful Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park.
For a spot of caroling, sing along around Trafalgar Square’s Christmas tree, or join the carols by candlelight at the Royal Albert Hall, at the historic St Paul’s Cathedral. For some personal time with Santa, guests can make crafts with Mrs Claus, and say hello to the elves, before meeting Father Christmas at ZSL London Zoo. Meet Santa in his grotto and take a sleigh ride with adorable huskies at WWT London Wetland Centre, or hop aboard a cruise on the River Thames. You can also enter St Nicky’s Imaginarium at Christmess, watch Matthew Bourne’s Christmas ballet, a version of the classic Cinderella fairytale, or dress in regal French fashion at the ‘Beauty and the Feast’ dinner and dance.
To ease into things, sip on some mulled wine and look for gifts at Southbank Centre’s Winter Market. Head over to watch a piano recital at The Piccadilly Christmas Concert, or any of the masterful performances throughout the Raymond Gubbay Christmas Festival at the Barbican. You can also find everything from traditional carols to Christmas hits at the Royal Albert Hall’s annual Christmas Festival.
Finally, there’s more to look forward to, if you’re looking to go vegan in London! It might be the season for eggnog and turkey, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the festive treats. Grab a cup of deliciously creamy – but cream-free – Besos de Oro, which is basically like Baileys, and head out for some guilt-free gift shopping at the London Irish Centre.