I asked 29 expert travel bloggers a tough question: If you could spend Christmas anywhere but here, where would it be? And their answers might surprise (or inspire) you. Although a few got more than they bargained for.
North America | Europe | Australasia | Asia | South America | Africa
For me, 2011 was the first year my family spent Christmas away from home. We had booked a South Pacific cruise and celebrated on board with the Royal Caribbean crew.
2012 we spent Christmas in New York.
2013 Josh spent Christmas in Israel, while I went back to Perth, Australia.
2014 we celebrated Christmas 3 times. Mid December in Lapland, Finland with husky sleds and the real Santa. We then celebrated on the 25th with friends in Brasov, Romania. And finally we enjoyed a belated January Christmas with my extended family in Bali, Indonesia.
And for 2015 we are back in New York for Christmas! But this time half of my family is making the trip over to celebrate with us.
Christmas is an exciting time of year. Some folks spend every moment in the kitchen cooking. Others don’t care where they are as long as they can kick their feet up and relax. Others enjoy being surrounded by family and all the chaos that entails.
I love all those things about Christmas - family, food, and the holiday spirit. I just don’t want it to be in the same place as last year. So if I can uproot my entire family (and still have the ability to bake my traditional Banoffee Pie) I will.
Let’s take a look at what 29 other travel bloggers had to say.
WARNING: This is a longer-than-usual article, so grab a cuppa, put your feet up, get comfy and enjoy the read.
New York, USA
Robin – Luxe Recess
New York is a magical time at Christmas.
The first time I saw the Rockette’s at Radio City Music Hall, I was still living just down the street, so I sneered a little before the curtain went up at the frenzied, touristy hype about it all. But the second the show began, I was hooked and had the joy of taking my kids to see it when I became a mom several years later. On Christmas Day, the streets are quieter, calmer, and it’s fun to enjoy a brisk walk to see the store window displays along Fifth and Madison Avenues. There are wonderful family events at many of the hotels, and my favorite memory is from the Langham Place where Tina deVaron led a family brunch with Santa Claus. As she sang the lines “Santa Claus is coming to town”, Santa kept replying in a very thick Brooklyn accent, “I’m already hee-uh.”
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Lake Tahoe, California
Amy - Pit Stops for Kids
We spend about every other holiday away from home, but by far, Lake Tahoe is our favourite! We rent a home near the ski resorts we plan to visit (learn the ins and outs of holiday vacation rentals), and spend a week playing in the snow, cozying up to the fireplace, playing board games as a family, eating together in the rental kitchen, and watching movies. We love to ski at Northstar California, to enjoy the village afterward with its apres-ski ambiance, ice skating rink, and dining. When we want a challenge, we head to Squaw-Alpine Meadows for steeps and deeps, and for some of the most affordable and fun lessons in the area, we venture to Sierra at Tahoe. All ski resorts are between five and 35 minutes of our rental, and the towns of North Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe offer world-class cuisine.
Disney World, Florida
Karen - Family Travels on a Budget
When our kids were growing up, Christmas and home were synonymous. I never dreamed of traveling ON Christmas, but when my kids (19, 16 and 9) asked if we could celebrate at Walt Disney World, I hesitated only briefly before saying yes. We had annual passes, so tickets were not an issue — a huge help! We went a couple days before Christmas. A tabletop tree, a string of coloured lights, our stockings and a children’s nativity set were packed among the clothes and gifts. Except for Christmas Eve Day, when all the parks were packed (and nearly reaching capacity), it was something I would do again.
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Bethaney - Flashpacker Family
We celebrated Christmas in Mexico last year. We spent a month exploring the Yucatan peninsula - a great introduction to Mexico! We based ourselves in an apartment in Playa del Carmen for two weeks so we could enjoy Christmas. We set up a tree, decorated it and did presents. Because it was my daughter Hazel's first Christmas it was important that it felt "Christmassy" to us. Being from New Zealand, we're actually used to Christmas in the summer, so missing out on a White Christmas didn't bother us. The weather was balmy and we spent a lot of time at the beach. Akumal was our favourite! We also got away from the beach by visiting Valladolid and Chichen Itza.
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Sharon – Where’s Sharon
We had a fabulous Christmas on the north coast of Dominican Republic in the beach town of Cabarete. We picked this spot as it is quite a touristy town and we were hoping to find somewhere that served a traditional Christmas lunch. We were not disappointed! We spent Christmas Day either in the pool at our apartment complex or hanging out on the beautiful beach. In many ways, it wasn't actually that different to how we would spend Christmas in Australia. We had a fabulous lunch at an Irish pub - roast turkey and pumpkin pie for dessert! It wasn't quite what we are used to eating in Australia, but I was happy to find it all delicious. All in all, it was a perfect Christmas for us.
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Claudia - My Adventures Across the World
I had arrived in Balgue, the most remote and rural village in Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, the night prior. It had been one hell of a trip from Granada, involving God knows how many chicken buses, a taxi ride, a boat ride and a 2km hike up a steep hill in the forest, to get to my lost-in-the-wild hostel. It was my first Christmas away from home in years and I was actually quite happy with that, as I am not big on the festivities. On Christmas day I decided to go on a bit of exploration and went down to the village to see if anything interesting was happening. A few other tourists walked around whereas the locals just stayed in their homes, with their families. Not long after I had arrived, strong rain started falling. It was so strong that there was no way that I could hike up to the hostel without getting drenched. So, I decided to look for a refuge and ran. I walked inside the first gate I found, thinking it was some sort of comedor (a local eatery) as I saw people gathered around a patio and sitting around a rustic table. A split second after jumping in, I realized it was a private home. I gave my best smile, waved at the group that curiously stared at me, and said my most heartfelt “Feliz Navidad!”. Seconds later, I was offered a chair to join in the simple celebrations – singing along to the sound of a guitar, playing with the many children roaming about, and answering curious questions about what I was doing there. I felt welcome and this was a great Christmas present.
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Jessica – Goodie Goodie Gumdrop
Last year was our first Christmas outside of the US, our first Christmas where we did not travel to Miami or Maine and our first Christmas with no commitments. I have to admit it was fabulous. We spent our holiday in Nicaragua. At the time we were living in Costa Rica. Of course we missed our extended family, but it was so peaceful to experience a holiday in another country free and void of any social obligations. We had a talent show, ate, napped, played games, surfed, read to each other and just enjoyed being together as a family. It was magical. Our kids and my parents still talk about the Christmas in Nicaragua. Nicaragua has been our favourite place we have celebrated Christmas because it gave us oodles of time together as a family. But, this year we will be in Cusco, so it may take first place position.
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Lance and Laura - Travel Addicts
For Christmas, we love Grenada, the Island of Spice, in the Caribbean. We live in the US Northeast where it’s cold and miserable. The idea of being somewhere warm and wonderful for the holidays is tremendously appealing. And it is wonderful in Grenada. What’s not to love? The weather is warm, there’s lots of sunshine and there is something magical about the sand between your toes as you walk along the beach sipping a delicious adult beverage. But even better, there’s something magical under the surface of the water: the world’s first underwater sculpture park. For Christmas, we love Grenada!
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Jessica - A Passion and A Passport
A few years ago, I spent the holiday season on San Pedro, a little island off the coast of Belize. The morning was spent snorkelling in Belize's famed coral reef (most definitely not an ideal Christmas activity in New York!) Not only did we swim with a vast array of fish and sea turtles, but with stingrays and nurse sharks as well. I loved it so much I had to force myself out of the water. Later in the day, we decided to treat ourselves to Christmas massages. We ended up on massage tables directly over the water (you could see the fish swim by looking through the tiny slits in the wooden planks).
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Viktoria– Chronic Wanderlust
It is a weird feeling spending Christmas abroad and rather alone. Not completely alone for sure, because no matter where you go you'll meet people that will understand your never ending wanderlust and the need for adventures. I decided to spend Christmas in Cozumel, Mexico as a divemaster intern. It was just for 2.5 weeks, but it was surely one of the best holidays I've had. Every morning I got up, rode the bike to the dive shop filled with joy and welcomed my new customers. I went diving almost every day and Christmas itself was a lot of fun too. We celebrated on 25th December instead of the 24th - as we do in Austria. We had turkey and tequila, quesadillas and a great time together.
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Ruth – Exploramum
Christmas can be a lonely time when you are traveling, and away from your family. But last year it was anything but lonely. As a world traveling family we chose the small town, of Brasov about a one-hour drive from Bucharest in Romania.
The snow had been falling several days before, forming a white blanket on the ground. Perfect for ‘Santa’s sleigh to land on the rooftop and deliver gifts to the children’.
The hotel-apartment management delivered a Christmas tree and lights, and we’d collected decorations from every country we’d been to in the past year, and also painted pinecones – our temporary home looked magical.
We woke in our cosy rooftop apartment to find presents under the tree, and our hand-knitted stockings from Turkey filled with delights. And after enjoying our own family time, we gathered up food and drink, and loaded up the car to join two other traveling families for Christmas lunch at their rented home just out of town.
We arrived to join 2 other families - the Benders (Editors note: Hey that’s us!) and Kings, and the children played happily and decorated Christmas cookies and a gingerbread house.
We combined our dishes and enjoyed a wonderful Christmas feast together.
The festivities carried on well into the night. It was great to share the day with fellow Australians who travelled the world – just like us. That night as the snow lightly fell on our roof and my ten-year-old son gazed out across the Romanian rooftops, I knew it was a day we would never forget.
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Inma - A World to Travel
I was born and bred in Spain, therefore I know my country holds some of the greatest parties (including NYE's events) on earth. We are well known for our joyful attitude towards life and many times we choose socializing over work. But one year I decided to visit Edinburgh. Showcasing a Torchlight Procession, a five-stage festival all over the city centre on the night of the 31st, the crazy Loony Dook paradeon Jan 1st and many other cool things happening all over the place, this city definitely needs to be on everyone’s list that wants to enjoy a different (and awesome!) end of the year.
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Heather - Conversant Traveller
I'm not generally a fan of Christmas. Don't get me wrong, I love the sparkle and magic, but family politics and having to decide which relatives to visit each year really destroys the festive atmosphere. So last year hubby and I decided to get away from the madness and go it alone. Armed with a mini Christmas tree and our tasteful Rudolf jumpers, we headed off into the wilds of Snowdonia National Park in Wales. As you do. Renting a mountain hut in the middle of nowhere might not be everyone's ideal way to spend Christmas, but for us it was perfect. No people, no phones and no one to please except ourselves. After a day spent hiking up Snowdon (the highest peak in Wales) we managed to cook a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, which we ate by the side of a roaring log fire in the company of our steaming socks which we'd hung up to dry.
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Samantha - Travelling King
My favourite place so far is definitely Rome, I was lucky enough to spend a week in Rome with my father last year. The atmosphere in Rome during Christmas is magical (as corny as that sounds!). Lively open-air markets, decorations everywhere, live Christmas music on the streets and of course happy families enjoying time together. If you’re lucky you might even get to see the Pope riding around in his “Popemobile”.
Make sure to take a day trip to the Amalfi Coast and enjoy a traditional Christmas lunch at one of the beachside cafés in Positano (which for me was traditional Italian pizza and amazing wine).
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Edna - Expat Edna blog
My favorite place to celebrate Christmas away from home is Paris. I love spending the month of December wandering around the Christmas markets set up around town, eating hot cheese dishes like raclette and fondue while drinking mulled wine. The gorgeous decorations hanging in the streets - especially the famous Christmas displays at Printemps and the big department stores around town - make the City of Light sparkle even more than usual. And for an extra dose of cheer, I'll go for a ride on the Ferris Wheel set up at Concorde or try skating at the giant ice rink set up outside the Hotel de Ville!
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Lisa - Hilton Mom Voyage
Ditch the blustery snow and set off for a balmy, festive European Christmas in Seville, Spain... the PERFECT holiday destination! We loved our Christmas in Seville - sunny days, chestnuts roasting, elaborate nativity scenes, and historic charm at every corner! In particular, our family will never forget experiencing Christmas Mass in the third largest cathedral in Christian world, the Gothic Seville Cathedral, a moving experience for people of all religions. We loved our tranquil walk to midnight mass through the quiet Seville streets and plazas full of colourful twinkling lights. Simply magical!
On Christmas Day, giddily dressed in short sleeves, we strolled through the romantic streets of the Old Quarter, explored Plaza Espana on the edge of the verdant Parque de María Luisa, and delighted in sampling delicious tapas. Another highlight of our Christmas in Seville was discovering the magnificent Metropol Parasol, otherwise known as The Mushrooms in the Plaza de la Encarnacion. This immense ultra-modern wooden structure, a one-of-a-kind architectural wonder, contrasts dramatically with this medieval city. Our family loved taking the elevator up to explore the panoramic deck and walkway. Experiencing the view of this gorgeous vibrant city is spectacular... and made our Christmas experience in Seville complete!
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Jonathan – Two Monkeys Travel Group
We've both celebrated Christmas all over the world, from a French ski resort in the Alps, to a lakeside restaurant in Hanoi, but our favourite Christmas together was also the highest – 4,061 metres high! La Paz is the highest administrative capital city in the world, it's cold and the scarcity of oxygen makes breathing hard work. Luckily, we were staying in the only hostel that came complete with its own artisan brewery, so on Christmas Day, we jumped in a bus with about 20 other hostel residents for a Christmas Day BBQ in a the countryside just 40 minutes outside of the city, surrounded by green hills, fresh air and massive vats of organic ales. It was our best alternative Christmas ever!
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Begonja Family - Chasing the Donkey
Last Christmas we decided to ditch our usual celebrations and spend it in Croatia's capital, Zagreb. Our goal was to experience the magic of the Advent in the Zagreb festival we had heard so much about and absorb some of that Zagreb Christmas cheer. The city of Zagreb celebrates Advent for the entire month of December. And the city is transformed into a Christmas wonderland. Zagreb gets dressed for the occasion and is decorated in lovely lights, including the beautiful tree-lined Zrinjevac Park, the pop-up Christmas Markets, the streets around Zagreb's main square Ban Jelačić, and performance spaces erected around the city with daily musical and theatrical performances.
We arrived a few days before Christmas and spent the our time wandering the city absorbing the Christmas vibe, buying christmassy trinkets, drinking mulled wine, and watching the performances. The city of Zagreb has really nailed Christmas. It’s also worth mentioning that this year Zagreb was nominated for Best European Christmas Destination.
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New Zealand & Tahiti, French Polynesia
Mar – Once In A Lifetime Journey
Against my family’s wishes, I decided to go ahead with my plan and spend 2014 Christmas Day in New Zealand and French Polynesia. This was a trip that ended in Bora Bora and the Cook Islands, after a few days road tripping the North Island of New Zealand. As I had broke up with my boyfriend, I went alone. We booked flights on Christmas Day in the evening from Auckland to Tahiti and as we crossed the Date Line somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we gained a day, so five hours later, we re-lived Christmas Day.
My first Christmas day was indeed spent alone, mostly in my hotel room, with the virtual company of my friends in Asia who were already on Christmas Day. On my second Christmas Day, I woke up in Tahiti, where the resort had put up a true Polynesian dance show and a massive brunch buffet. There were grass skirts, red bikini tops and unlimited amounts of marinated raw fish. I enjoyed the show, and even joined the dancers for a selfie, and then spent the rest of the day driving around the island. I was invited by locals enjoying the various streams and beaches and had a wonderful warm day in the South Seas. I was effectively the first and last of my friends to wake up on Christmas Day.
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Heidi – Wagoners Abroad
We spent Christmas in Vietnam and there was a little concern there wouldn’t be any Christmas cheer. As it turned out Hoi An was a perfect place to spend Christmas. The village was very festive, with all of the hanging lanterns in the shops and several restaurants playing traditional holiday music. This was great for quickly getting into the Christmas spirit. Once that was layered with a magical Christmas Eve sunset dinner cruise, it was amazing. As we sailed along the river, Christmas celebrations were found all along the banks. Large decorated Christmas trees with lights were everywhere - this was an unexpected surprise in Vietnam. It was amazing to find that traditional Christmas feeling. On our walk back through the village to our accommodation in town, there was so much cheer in the air. Everyone was buzzing about and the streets were alive with celebration, lanterns, fireworks and loads of little mini Santas running about. This was a fantastic cozy location for Christmas.
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Taylor – Travel Outlandish
After a costume-less Halloween, and a Thanksgiving dinner at KFC, we expected our Christmas in Thailand would be comparably dismal. Instead, we celebrated Christmas the Soemngam Witthayakhom School way. On Christmas morning, my co-worker dressed as Santa, and the entire student body came wearing intricate costumes; the boy from my m-5 class dressed as the most exquisite Snow White was surely the fairest of them all. I was tasked with explaining the birth of Jesus to a crowd of Buddhist teenagers as director of the nativity play. The gym filled with familiar carols sung in an unfamiliar tones, and the halls were decked with pink and orange tinsel (an unusual choice for Christmas, no doubt). Yes, it was certainly no Christmas I had ever known, but I hadn't gone all the way to Thailand for that anyway.
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Stu & Eloise - Am I Nearly There Yet?
We treated ourselves over the Christmas period as we'd be travelling through India for several months and were pretty burned out. We spent Christmas and New Years up in the hill station of Darjeeling, high in the Indian Himalayas back in 2013. It was pretty amazing! Famous for the best tea on earth and the Toy Train, Darjeeling is quite chilly during December, so it really felt like a real wintery Christmas… apart from the food! We thought there'd be at least one place to get something 'festive' to eat for dinner on Christmas day. No chance! Curry all the way. So we settled back in our room with a bottle of brandy in bed with some pre-downloaded Christmas movies, put all our clothes on and hired ourselves a dodgy-looking Christmas electric blanket as it was -10°C outside… Good times!
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Karilyn – No Back Home
Nativity scenes on roadside displays, street kids selling their wares wearing Santa hats on a hot day and massive Christmas brunches. That is Christmas in Mumbai, one of our favourite places to celebrate.
Walking outside at Christmas time in Mumbai, it feels nothing like Christmas that we grew up with. Life hasn’t stopped, stores are not closed. Rather it’s buzzing like any other day, with an extra air of excitement for those who are celebrating. Religious celebrants walk along the streets in their finest clothes heading to midnight mass, while others are frantically shopping for their last minute decorations at the road side stalls.
For us, we enjoyed walking around checking out the nativity scenes and Christmas lights displayed out front of homes, but mostly we loved the Christmas brunch! From the elaborately decorated dining hall, to the sumptuous open buffet, it was true luxury. Throw in a visit from a jolly Santa, kids playroom with nannies and Christmas tunes blasting from the overhead speakers. This easily tops any Christmas I could create at home!
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Jon – Jon Is Travelling
There were no Christmas trees, roast dinners or presents, but the Christmas I spent at Angkor Wat will always be a memorable one. Angkor Wat is one of my favourite places on Earth, and walking around the massive main complex, as well as the crumbling outer temples, took my mind off the fact that this would be my first Christmas without family or friends.
I was lucky to meet a fellow tourist from Japan and we teamed up, riding our bicycles between the temples (the Angkor Wat site is huge) and then having a nice dinner in Seam Reap at night. This was my first Christmas “on the road” and I have since celebrated it in Marrakech, Morocco and the Sri Lankan Hill Country. It’s never easy being away from family on Christmas, but being able to spend it in amazing places around the world almost makes up for it.
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Maja - Traveling Rockhopper
Falkland Islands are not a typical destination. They are remote, expensive and usually quite cold. But there is something really special about the Falklands… its nature! I was lucky to spend Christmas on the Falklands. I spent all day outside, hiking around and greeting penguins. When I sat down on the grass, just close to one of the penguins’ rookery, they immediately came to me for inspection. They were the most interested in my shoelaces and trying to pick them. As a Christmas accent, I met three elegant kings (king penguins). I am sure their names were Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar, and they were following the Star of Bethlehem.
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Brock – Backpack With Brock
Every year since I was born I'd spent Christmas in my tiny hometown in Canada where it was always cold and usually snowy. In 2012, however, I spent Christmas in Africa. Tunisia to be exact. The cold was traded for heat, the snow was traded for sand and reindeer, well, we had camels instead!
While I had always wondered what it would be like to visit somewhere warm for Christmas, I'm not sure Tunisia was the best choice. Because it is a predominantly Muslim country, finding a spot to celebrate in the spirit was pretty tough. Still, we dressed in red and white, relaxed on the beach and enjoyed dinner with other travellers wanting to celebrate. A few days later we were still in Tunisia for New Years where there were no fireworks and the only bar closed at 8pm. Lesson learned. If a holiday is important to you, make sure your destination celebrates it!
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Marissa - Little Things Travel Blog
The first Christmas I spent away from home was in Zambia. I never thought I’d spend the holidays away from my family, let alone all the way on the opposite side of the world in Africa. Little did I know that trip would forever change my life. In December 2013, I spent a few weeks volunteering on a teaching program in Livingstone, Zambia. While the teachers were off during their school break, volunteers would teach what we called "Holiday Club" so the kids could still learn, play games with us, and do arts and crafts.
It was the most memorable Christmas I have ever experienced. I think the kids may have taught me more than I taught them! Despite how little they had, they were generous in any way they could be. One girl wrote down Christmas songs in a journal to give to me, and another gave me a pencil stub, pen, and plastic necklace. While these gifts may seem like nothing to some people, they were treasures to those students. Although it was a different Christmas, I loved it and will never forget the experience!
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Nancy – Family on Bikes
For schoolteachers, Christmas means vacation from school. For schoolteachers teaching in Africa, vacation usually means going elsewhere for the holiday. There were a few times, however, that we remained in Africa. One year, prior to having kids, my husband and I took advantage of our three weeks to ride our bikes around Mali. I have a vague recollection of arriving into the town of Djenne on Christmas (or was it New Years) and relaxing on the roof of our hotel eating a kilo of meat freshly roasted over a fire. It had been a hard five-day slog through the desert, so that holiday meal of meat was greatly appreciated!
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Francesca - The Working Mom’s Travels
The one and only Christmas I spent away from home began unlike any other. There were no presents to open but there were countless roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing at 4am. There was no gathering around the tree with family but there was a simple breakfast of hot tea, coffee, fresh mangos and pineapples, bread, peanut butter, and jelly. I was in a small village outside of Moshi, Tanzania, spending Christmas with friends at the home of a local family before we set off to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. To thank the host family for sharing their home and holiday with us, my friend bought a goat for them. The male elder slaughtered the goat behind the house and promptly barbecued it for a Christmas feast. The slaughter was a bit much for me to handle, but the significance for this family of getting to enjoy a sizable meal was not lost on me.
The greatest highlight of the day was a late afternoon hike we took up the hill behind the house for a different view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The trail literally took us through the homes of the villagers. Everyone greeted us with a friendly handshake, a warm smile, and wishes for a Merry Christmas. We reached the top of the hill, opened a bottle of wine, and waited for clouds to clear the peak. Within minutes the mighty Uhuru was revealed. Nature on display in such a majestic way was a spirited reminder of the true meaning of the season, and caused me to reflect on all I had to be thankful for. It’s one Christmas Day I won’t soon forget.
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The Bottom Line
Phew! That was a long list. I hope you find some inspiration if you’re considering taking your family away over Christmas, or just heading out solo. Even though the expressions of Christmas vary greatly around the world, it’s a perfect time to demonstrate generosity, compassion and love to those around you. Or just eat lots of delicious food. Or a bit of both.
Reader Comments..."I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" - Josh Bender
This is such a great list. We have been "away" for Christmas since 2007, so it is wonderful to see so many others with the same thought process. Now we have some more cool places to add to our list!
FANTASTIC post to inspire wanderlust! I am spending Christmas at home this year, after two years away. I think my sister is the happiest about it. We love each other to bits!
Thanks for putting this together and having us! :D So many ideas here, so little time!
And have a lovely Xmas and NYE everyone!
What an incredible list! Thanks so much for including me. There's nothing like being with family during Christmas, but spending the holidays somewhere else can create such memorable experiences!
Thank you for including me and my penguin paradise :)
And actually, I got some ideas for the following Christmas!
Thank you and Merry Christmas! ^_^
All the places are too good to spend Christmas time with family and friends. This post is very helpful. Thanks for sharing.
I see a common theme here, people tend to like warm climates for the holidays haha! Very few cold countries picked. I'm from Cali and Christmas is never that cool, but I would actually like to get a cabin one year & have a white Christmas for once.
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