How to Have a Special Day & Celebrate Christmas while Travelling
Updated on February 24th, 2020
I love Christmas and the holiday season, it’s one of my favourite times of the year. Last year was especially special as Ben and I were hopping between the Christmas markets in Romania sipping mulled wine and eating all of the Christmas goodies. We experienced the first snowfall of the season in Brasov and then continued on to Slovakia where we spent celebrated Christmas while travelling with a house full of volunteers for the Jasna ski resort.
Even though we were doing all of these magical things, exploring and seeing a new part of the world, there was still a part of me that wished I was celebrating Christmas with my family. On calls home, they spoke about Christmas Day plans, what food they would eat, what gifts they have bought for each other and how they would be spending time off. With those types of calls, it’s hard not to feel a little left out. So every year when it happens I am away for the holidays I try and make Christmas a fun celebration regardless of where I am or who I am with.
In this article, I have 10 travel bloggers who are often away for Christmas and the holidays share ways they have celebrated Christmas abroad and show you how to celebrate Christmas while travelling and still make the day special.
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Celebrate Christmas while travelling by visiting temples and churches
Temples, cheese and wine in Bhutan
Post and image by James from Where Youre Between
In 2018, my wife and I celebrated Christmas while travelling in the small town of Bumthang, halfway through a ten-day tour of Bhutan. Bumthang sits at the bottom of a lush green valley surrounded by beautiful mountains covered in forests in the heart of central Bhutan. Christmas day was gloriously sunny, and as we were made our way to a number of ancient and spectacular traditional temples, our Bhutanese guide and driver asked us how Christmas is traditionally celebrated in Britain.
As a devoutly Buddhist country, Bhutan has no concept of Christmas. There wasn’t one Christmas tree or a single piece of tinsel anywhere on our trip. I explained that Christmas day is usually spent with family, eating and drinking too much before falling asleep in front of the television. They laughed and said that that’s exactly how they celebrate New Year’s Day in Bhutan.
After visiting a number of Bumthang’s breath-taking temples and monasteries, our Christmas day ended in very different surroundings. In the 1960s a visitor from Switzerland visited Bumthang and decided to stay and set up a cheese factory. To this day, Bumthang’s Swiss Cheese Factory produces Emmental and Gouda in the unlikely setting of central Bhutan. To recreate part of a traditional British Christmas we bought a delicious block of Emmental and a surprisingly decent bottle of Bhutanese red wine to polish off back at our hotel.
Explore temples of Myanmar
Post and image by Kirsty from World For A Girl
Last year, we spent Christmas Day exploring the stunning temples of Bagan in Myanmar. We arose to the mesmerising sight of dozens of hot air balloons floating above the ancient stupas as the sun rose in the morning sky. After donning our swim gear and some Santa hats, we had a leisurely dip in our hotel’s pool whilst sipping cocktails. Later, we hired a tuk-tuk to take us to visit some of the amazing temples.
Visiting Buddhist temples on Christmas Day might seem unusual for many travellers. For non-religious travellers like us, it was a timely reminder of some of the wondrous beauty and exquisite art that religion has given the world over the centuries. We closed the day by joining the crowds for sunset over what us in one of the most beautiful man-made sights in the world – wearing Santa hats of course!
Visit the resting place of Saint Nicholas
Post and image by Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan
On Christmas Day 2015, I found myself in Bari, the capital of the southern province of Puglia in Italy. What better way to celebrate Christmas than by visiting the final resting place of Santa Claus himself, a.k.a Saint Nicholas?
St. Nicholas was from Turkey, though, not Italy, so why are his relics kept in Bari? Well, in the 11th century, when Muslim Seljuks took control of Turkey, merchants from Bari connived to bring his body back with them to Bari for safekeeping. Ever since then, the Basilica that was built to house the relics has been an important place of pilgrimage for Catholics as well as Orthodox Christians.
With its mosaic pavements and Romanesque sculpture, the thousand-year-old Basilica is a very atmospheric place to visit at any time of year, but especially at Chrismas. I loved sitting on the steps of the Basilica on a cold but sunny Christmas Day and soaking up the atmosphere while nibbling on a box of cartellate. This traditional Christmas treat is made from a dough of flour, white wine and olive oil and soaked in vincotto (concentrated grape must). It’s one of many local specialty dishes that are found only in Puglia.
Travel to celebrate a White Christmas
An Aussie family’s first white Christmas in Boston
Post and image by Sally from Our 3 Kids V The World
Being Australian, Christmas is pretty much different to everywhere else in the world as we have hot weather where most of the rest of the world it’s cold. Our kids grow up with movies and books depicting Christmas winter wonderlands and its a little confusing for them in the beginning.
I had always wanted my kids to experience a White Christmas, we made the decision to do it and it took me 4 years of planning. We made it as part of a 7 week USA road trip that included the West Coast, East Coast, New Orleans and a Caribbean cruise.
Where to have Christmas has a hotly researched topic. I finally made my decision and choose Boston, because it fitted with my itinerary and would mean we could have New Year in New York. I had a 60% chance of having snow which I thought were pretty good odds.
Long story short, I did get my White Christmas, it started snowing at 8 am while we opened our Christmas presents and snowed until 11 am. A perfect 4 inches just enough to play in and throw some snowballs. Us crazy Aussies must have been a site outside our Boston Hotel in our pyjamas and boots running, playing and having a ball in the snow. It was my dream come true!
Combine Christmas and birthday celebrations in the snow
Post and image by Bec at Wyld Family Travel
Nothing screams Christmas like snow, snowmen, singing carols about sleigh rides through the snow, reindeer and hot wine…unless you are an Aussie and Christmas is in the middle of summer! When you are knee-deep in a 30-degree day and you are watching your mum slave over a hot oven you think what it would be like on the other side of the world! So for many Aussie’s a White Christmas is something you want to experience at least once…see what it’s like ‘over there’.
For me, I am hit with the double whammy. Christmas Day is also my birthday. No, my mum never let me forget she missed that one Christmas lunch and yes, Christmas pudding did end up my cake many times. So for me it was a wish I wasn’t sure would ever come true. So we decided we’d give it a go. With the help from our friends, we would celebrate our first-ever White Christmas in Wisla Poland in 2016. While there was a huge chance of snow you can never really know what mother nature has in store for you and if she would grant my biggest wish of it actually snowing on my birthday.
Most Polish people actually celebrate the night before with a huge Christmas dinner with family. So we joined our friends in their traditions on Christmas Eve in their small ski chalet that was already covered in snow. We also showed them some of ours with leaving out the carrots for the reindeer and a beer for Santa.
On Christmas morning we woke to unwrap presents, happy crazy kids running around with gifts, birthday wishes for me and evidence that Rudolf had indeed eaten his carrots on the front porch (I got some seriously strange looks grating a carrot the night before onto their porch but reindeer are messy eaters!)
From then on it was my birthday. The first Christmas Day I’d ever actually celebrated it. I was surprised with a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow-covered forest and when we finally arrived at our destination we cooked sausage over an open fire, built snowmen in the field, had snowball fights, drank gluhwein and then it actually snowed. Tiny flakes fell and the Australian’s in the group went wild! We had our tongues sticking out, there was screaming (that was possibly me), snow angels being made and a heap of laughter from our friends. Although it is a combined day it is still the best Christmas Day we have ever had…well hopefully until this year BECAUSE WE’RE DOING IT ALL AGAIN!!
Celebrate Christmas while travelling by learning about different traditions
Traditional Dutch Christmas
Post and image by Ashley from Jetset Janson
Spending Christmas abroad was inevitable for me after recently marrying a Dutchman and I was excited to experience the traditions of a Dutch Christmas.
The festivities start early in November and I was surprised to learn that Sinterklaas (the Dutch Santa) arrives by boat from Spain! We just so happened to be in town for the arrival parade and saw Sinterklaas sailing down the canal on a huge boat, where he waved to all the children (and me) on land. The streets are decorated for the arrival of Sinterklaas and I loved strolling along the cobblestone streets to buy oliebollen, a fried doughnut ball sprinkled with sugar.
The Christmas markets were in full force and I couldn’t help dragging my husband to as many as we could see, as they are each filled with cute, storybook-looking stalls. Tinsel hung from the shops and we warmed ourselves up with a glass of gluhwein (mulled wine!). While the traditions and decorations were different, the Christmas feeling was the same and it was a wonderful way to spend the holidays.
Traditional snowy Polish Christmas
Post and image by Holly from Four Around The World
We live in Australia so Christmas is usually spent in the swimming pool after a feast of cold meat and salad. There was always the dream to celebrate a white Christmas and I am so grateful to have had this experience in the most beautiful winter wonderland – Zakopane in Poland.
Zakopane looks like a fairytale come to life with snow-capped wooden houses, decorated streets and the most stunning mountain scenery of the Polish Tatra Mountains in the background.
Our white Christmas in Zakopane was spent like a traditional Polish Christmas, with a Christmas Eve feast and gift-giving, followed by midnight mass.
Christmas morning was another feast-filled day, with us stuffing ourselves full of the most delicious meats, side dishes and desserts before heading out for an afternoon playing in the snow.
We spent our Zakopane Christmas with my husband’s extended family and friends. What made this especially memorable is the fact his mum is Polish and she was able to create a Christmas experience for us all, just like she had when she was younger.
Celebrate Christmas in the tropics
Open gifts under a palm tree
Post and image by Gigi from Beach Addicted
I am not sure about you, but we have always wanted to celebrate Christmas in the tropics. As I am from Slovakia and Nico from Germany, our Christmas is often with lots of snow and cold weather. That is why we were so excited to finally experience a hot Christmas on a small island in Thailand.
Koh Mak is the smallest island of all 3 islands located in the Koh Chang archipelago. We had our ultimate dream location and we stayed at small and cosy wooden hut directly at the beach. We spent our Christmas day swimming in warm waters, having cocktails at the beach bar and chilling on the beach. But the best thing was we were able to open our Christmas presents on the beach. We placed our gifts on the sand under the palm tree and opened them with such happiness. After, we waited for the beautiful sunset and pinky sky to show up. For us, It was very unusual but extraordinary Christmas day, which we will never forget.
Dancing and choosing not to exchange gifts in Panama
Post and image by Adam from Cartagena Explorer
The best Christmas my wife and I have had travelling was several years back. We decided to visit Panama, and spent Christmas time in the beautiful islands of Bocas del Toro. The islands are very pretty, and there are several beautiful beaches nearby. The best are Red Frog Beach and Starfish Beach.
On Christmas Eve itself, we had a great dinner at a restaurant on the main strip that had a special Christmas dinner and enjoyed some good wine. We had decided not to exchange gifts, except for just enjoying each other’s company. The most memorable part of the night was going out dancing after dinner. I always find it interesting that Christmas is such a party holiday in Latin America. We ended up in a little club built over the water. The mix of reggae and reggaeton captured the Latino and Caribbean culture of the islands perfectly! The warm weather, beautiful beaches, and cool culture made this our most memorable Christmas on the road.
Other ways on how to celebrate Christmas while travelling
An unconventional Christmas on tour in North Korea
Post and image by Steve from The Trip Goes On
Having lived in China for the past four years, Christmas usually passes with little fanfare, but last year I decided to book a few days off work and take a trip to North Korea. Unconventional maybe, but it would certainly be a Christmas never forgotten!
Christmas Eve was spent travelling by train from Dandong in China to Pyongyang. We arrived late and I spent the evening getting to know my fellow tourists in the hotel bar over a few Taedong beers.
Christmas day arrived and I was saddened to see that Santa had obviously got held up at the border, however upon opening the curtains to an icy cold morning it was clear to be a white Christmas! The temperature was around -10c and the hotel didn’t have hot water, but this didn’t dampen my spirits in the slightest.
After a Christmas breakfast of eggs, toast and coffee we boarded our tour bus for an intense day of sightseeing. Our guide handed out red Santa hats for everyone to wear and the scene of a bunch of foreigners wandering the icy streets of Pyongyang in festive hats is one I won’t forget in a hurry!
By getting a permanent reminder
Post and image by Hannah and Adam from Getting Stamped
Thailand has always held a special place in our hearts, as we had our honeymoon there. We’ve been back time and time again so we thought we’d do something to always remember this special destination.
A few Christmas’s ago, Adam and I decided to get each other permanent Christmas gifts – tattoos in Thailand! These weren’t just any tattoos, but tattoos done by monks. We previously had met other travellers who got this ink done and they all had amazing stories to share about them.
We both got Sak Yant tattoos in Chiang Mai, which are done by a Buddhist monk with a metal rod – no machine gun. The monk that did ours had been giving these magical tattoos for over 20 years! These tattoos are special to us. They hold meaning, a story, history and even some possibly mystical powers. We’re so happy we decided to share this experience together – it’s one we will never forget!
How have you celebrated Christmas while travelling?
Leave your favourite Christmas memories and how you celebrated while travelling in the comments below.