Eight unique ways to celebrate Christmas around the world

When a traditionally white Christmas with all the usual trimmings won’t quite cut it (or, should we say, carve it), remember that a world of refreshing customs and celebrations beg to be discovered. Save the mulled wine and coal-filled stockings for another year – from midnight mass with the Pope in Vatican City to fruit punch and tamales feasts in Mexico, here are eight unique and wonderful ways to celebrate your favourite season around the world.

Vatican City, Italy. Image: iStock/bukki88

Rome and Vatican City, Italy

You’ll perhaps find no better way to rediscover the beauty of Christmas than in Vatican City, home of the Catholic Church. On Christmas Eve, large crowds gather at St Peter’s Square to attend midnight mass with the Pope, held in the light of a larger-than-life Christmas tree. An impressive, life-size Nativity Scene is also erected here. Couple this experience with a tour of Rome’s Christmas market on Piazza Navona, a stroll down cobbled streets adorned with festive lights, and a regal Christmas concert – all before settling down with tortellini soup, fish and seafood, and a fruity slice of panettone.

Goa, India

Combining its rich Portuguese roots with the exotic thrills of a coastal location in western India, Goa offers a warm Christmas season rich in festivities, fun and amazing food. Head to its beaches for firework displays and dance parties aplenty, or try a more sobering experience with Missa de Galo (midnight mass) at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. For dinner, enjoy a pork sorpotel stew or grilled seafood before a tasting of delicious local desserts – from fried half-moon pastries filled with coconut, to crisp mandare made of pumpkin and rice flour.

Manila, The Philippines. Image: Jay Erickson/Flickr

The Philippines

Holding the world’s longest Christmas period, which typically begins in September for many locals, The Philippines certainly knows how to put festive fun at the forefront. Home to Asia’s largest Catholic community, it provides a chance to experience yuletide joy in a slice of the world where Christmas is not as widely celebrated – and with a mixture a western and native traditions, from Santa Claus and carolling to Simbang Gabi (a series of nine dawn masses) and the Noche Buena feast, you can look forward to an exciting cultural mish-mash of fairy light-studded festivities – speaking of lights, those after an explosion of decorative beauty and cheer shouldn’t miss the Festival of Lights at the Ayala Triangle Gardens in Metropolitan Manila’s Makati.


As well as warm and sunnier climes, Jamaica brings its own intriguing spin to Christmas with Grand Market – a long-standing day-to-night occasion, whereby vendors take to the streets across the country on Christmas Eve and through to the morning of Christmas Day, offering family-friendly entertainment in the form of music, shopping and sizzling food stalls. On Christmas Day, a typical breakfast of ackee and saltfish, breadfruit and fried plantains precedes mass – a formidable celebration where your favourite carols are given a steel drum and reggae twist.

Shinjuku in Tokyo, Japan. Image: iStock/Mustang_79

Tokyo, Japan

Shinto and Buddhism are Japan’s main religions, yet Christmas stands out as a special time of year here nonetheless. Tick Tokyo off your bucket list for a truly magical break, as avenues and gardens are brightened up with gorgeous displays of lights, lanterns and Christmas trees – head to Marunouchi Naka-dori to pair a twinkling display with a spot of shopping, or light up your evenings with even more unforgettable illuminations in Shiodome, Shibuya and Roppongi Hills. Foodies visiting here will also swap the roast turkey and chocolate Yule log for fried chicken and elegant sponge cake, topped with snow-white whipped cream and fresh strawberries.


Mexico’s take on celebrating Christmas comes in the shape of a nine-night procession, known locally as Las Posadas: held from 16 December until Christmas Eve, locals walk the streets, candles and statues in hand, singing carols or stopping for prayers and religious readings en route. Throughout this period, lilies, moss and evergreens adorn homes, while piñatas offer up evening entertainment and candle-lit paper bag lanterns (known as farolitos) light windows and streets. On Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), families typically attend midnight mass before enjoying a late dinner – spreads feature tamales, Christmas Eve salads, turkey, the circular rosca de reyes cake, and fruit punch.

Prague, Czech Republic. Image: iStock/borchee

Czech Republic

Alongside offering a perfectly wrapped, classic European package – picture mesmerising outdoor markets against a backdrop of chocolate box houses and historic churches – the Czech Republic’s traditions stand out in somewhat unusual ways – starting with its festive symbol, the Christmas carp, bought by families to swim in their bathtub until it is served for dinner on Christmas Eve. Fortune-telling is a highlight here, too: walnut shells, apples, carp scales and liquid lead hold good health, wealth and protective properties, and are particularly effective when used to predict your future on Christmas Eve.

Harbin, China

When it comes to classic Christmas getaways, the capital of China’s northernmost province Heilongjiang may not immediately spring to mind – but don your warmest boots, hat and mittens for a tour of its extravagant ice festival, and a memorable as well as one-of-a-kind end-of-year escape is safely guaranteed. Held annually from 24 December to February 25, it’s the world’s largest festival of its kind and blends intricately detailed ice sculptures of architectural gems, dragons and folklore, all spread over a surface of more than 700,000 square metres. It’s arguably most impressive at night, when it comes to life with a riot of neon colours.

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