‘TIS THE SEASON
It’s six months until Christmas. Book your holiday today
It doesn’t take long for the countdown to Christmas to begin. Whether you wait in eager anticipation or stress at the thought, it’s worth noting it is six months away today. Despite all the harried holiday exertions, Christmas is a time when families come together to celebrate, worship and remember the year that was.
And with Christmas falling during the radiant Australian summer, there are all kinds of ways to rejoice.
While some families live for a traditional Christmas with all the trimmings at home, others see it as an opportunity to take advantage of the school or work holidays, when they can get away from it all with a fun-filled trip away. Either way, the celebratory options are endless.
So, we’ve unpacked a sleigh of holiday ideas, plus some strategies on how to best navigate the season, how to find the best bargains, and a travel idea or two.
FOR A WHITE CHRISTMAS
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been captivated by a white Christmas. The falling snow, carollers singing door to door, warm spiced drinks and winter woollies.
The visions may seem fanciful to some Australians, but having experienced many a Christmas in the northern hemisphere, it’s every bit as charming as the storybooks say.
My first white Christmas was in New York City, a place that’s hard to beat when it comes to the fantastical.
Few places do Christmas better than the Big Apple.
Visit the enormous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and take a twirl on the world’s most famous ice skating rink. Marvel at the 5th Ave decorations and festive department store window displays; see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall or take a stroll through the winter wonderland that is Central Park.
One of New York’s most hallowed sites, St Patrick’s Cathedral, features Christmas events throughout the season.
Skip the family round-robin this Christmas Day and take the entire clan on a multi-generational cruise. Christmas is about spending time with family and loved ones, and a cruise offers that and so much more.
Visit islands, relax around the pool and let someone else worry about the cooking on the day. There are countless destinations to choose from.
IN SEARCH OF SANTA
Even adults can wistfully entertain the idea of a faraway magical land, where the northern lights dance across the clear night sky and where reindeer-powered sleighs are the standard mode of transport. A land filled with natural beauty, and legendary Christmas charm, Lapland in Finland is recognised as the “official” home of Santa Claus.
Take a snowmobile trip in search of Santa’s house to meet the jolly fella and his elves. There’s even a Santa Park with magic shows, elf workshop and plenty of winter-based activities.
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE
Tallinn, in Estonia, may not be at the top of your holiday travel list at Christmas, but this charming European city on the Baltic Sea is responsible for a much-loved holiday tradition – the Christmas tree.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) in Old Town, is credited with erecting the first Christmas tree in 1441. The tradition, of course, continues to this day, with the lighting of the tree, Christmas markets, an open-air ice-skating rink, classic movie screenings and jazz concerts now all part of the traditional holiday festivities.
TROPICAL FIVE-STAR LUXURY
Who hasn’t dreamt of escaping to a private island retreat? If it’s quiet holiday time you’re seeking, then consider going tropical on one of the northern Fijian Islands. Swap the holiday stress and commotion for a private luxury bure and a white sandy beach. Matangi Island, Qamea Island and the township of Savusavu on Vanua Levu, all offer luxury accommodation in a peaceful and secluded atmosphere. Swim, snorkel or dive colourful reefs, or simply swing in a hammock strung between coconut palms with cocktail in hand.
KEEP THE FAITH
Spend time in Israel’s Holy Land with a visit to the Church of All Nations, the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the blind and the lame, and the winding alleys of historic Jaffa.
In Germany, follow Martin Luther’s footsteps in his quest for reformation and visit Wartburg Castle, where Luther translated the New Testament into German.
On the Emerald Isle, pay your respects at St Patrick’s burial place, the Cathedral of Downpatrick.
Visit the coastal town of Kavala, in Greece, where Paul the Apostle first set foot on European soil, or the cave on Patmos, where John wrote the Book of Revelation. The ultimate Italian pilgrimage for Catholics is to attend mass with Pope Francis at Vatican City.
TURN CHRISTMAS INTO NEW YEAR
Having waxed lyrical about New York City for Christmas, I couldn’t possibly forget about its New Year’s highlights.
Why not go for the Christmas and stay for the New Year’s Eve action? Join the street celebration on Times Square as you watch the famous ball drop at midnight.
Closer to home, consider Christmas Day on the beautiful Queensland beaches north and south of Brisbane. On the Gold Coast, celebrate New Year’s Eve twice at midnight, thanks to Queensland not observing daylight saving time.
From the beaches of Coolangatta, stroll over the border to Tweed Heads in NSW to watch the fireworks at midnight (11pm Queensland time). Cross back to Coolangatta and celebrate all over again an hour later.
CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN EUROPE
European Christmas markets have a magical quality. Wooden huts and festive stands erected along the historic squares and cobblestone streets where a sip of spiced mulled wine always taste better.
From handmade Christmas ornaments to chestnuts roasting over an open fire, you’ll find all kinds of Christmas-themed items to enjoy.
While Christmas markets can be found around Europe, be sure to add Zagreb, in Croatia, to your list.
DOUBLE CHRISTMAS VALUE
Can’t get enough of that Christmas spirit? What if I told you there’s a way to celebrate it twice? Thanks to the wonders of air travel, crossing the international date line is a breeze.
Enjoy Christmas Day in Australia, before hopping on an evening flight across the dateline to Honolulu, where Christmas Day is just dawning.
Flights to Honolulu generally depart late afternoon or early evening, landing in Hawaii on the same morning. Celebrate family time at home in Australia, then holiday time on Waikiki Beach and enjoy the day’s festivities all over again.
MY FIRST WHITE CHRISTMAS WAS SPENT IN NEW YORK CITY, A PLACE THAT’S HARD TO BEAT WHEN IT COMES TO THE FANTASTICAL
ST PETER’S BASILICA