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Ashleigh on Oct 05, 2015

Experience the weird and wonderful Christmas traditions from around the world

New Zealanders have a rather interesting Christmas experience compared to those in the Northern Hemisphere. Our festive season is usually spent in jandals and stubbies with a beer in one hand and BBQ tongs in the other, Dave Dobbyn blasting from the speakers and the family relaxing out in the sun. We include Santa and the Nativity in our celebrations but a Christmas in front of the fire, eating turkey and yorkshire puddings whilst the rain and snow fall outside is a far cry from our own experiences.

 
Originally from England, it took me a while to adjust to the sweltering hot summer days over the holiday season when I first arrived here, but it is something I have come to love - and I highly recommend that other travellers enjoy a Christmas elsewhere! Although it's a wonderful time of year to spend at home, getting out of your comfort zone and taking the time to explore how others mark the occasion is a rewarding experience. From a complete change of pace in chilly Amsterdam, watching Sinterklaas parade past by horseback to somewhere a little closer to home such as the sweltering South Pacific, there are plenty of places to gain a whole new perspective.
 
The occasional break in tradition can make for an incredible Christmas, and there are holidays suitable for the whole clan or just for you and yours.
 
Take a look at these travel ideas for inspiration as to where to spend the jolly season.
 
Pacific Islands
 
Many of the December itineraries out of Sydney and Brisbane head straight up to the Pacific Islands, which are, basically, tropical versions of New Zealand towns like Ohope, Whangamata and Coromandel. Rather than heading up the coast of Aotearoa, travelling to the stunning sandy beaches of Noumea, Vila and Isle of Pines can be a home away from holiday home. P&OPrincessRoyal Caribbean and more offer a number of trips to this gorgeous corner of the world - but how do these places celebrate Christmas?
 
Food is the focal point of Christmas in Pacific culture - a reason many BBQ feast-loving Kiwis like visiting here. The menu goes above and beyond the New Zealand favourites of snazzlers and a pavlova, offering delicious exotic dishes including seafood, salads and cold meats - the perfect accompaniment to the surroundings and temperature. Rather than keep it to themselves, Pacific Islanders open the celebration up to include neighbours, family and friends in a communal jollification.
 
You'll notice the French influence in places such as Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Tahiti, with children popping their shoes by the fireplace (or, more likely, an air conditioner) for Pere Noel to surprise them with gifts – a gallic tradition. Like in New Zealand, many families are Christian and will attend church on the day to enjoy the Nativity story.
 
Embracing the heat of a Southern Hemisphere Christmas, Islanders put their own spin on the traditional northern motifs of Christmas. You'll find Santa in board shorts, palm trees wrapped in fairy lights and fake snow in the windows. The beautiful islands have unique and community-focused festivities which really highlights the spirit of the season.
 

Indonesia
 
A special feature of the Sun Princess's Indonesia Cruise is the visit to Ujung Pandang on the 25th of December. Like the Pacific Islands, Indonesians are made up of a large number of Christians so church services, typical decorations and traditional food – including a lot of pork – can be found here.
 
Indonesia has taken the concept of the Christmas tree and recreated their own version made of chicken or goose feathers, and these can be found all around. They are absolutely stunning, handmade and can be bought from shops to take home for your own version of an Indonesian Christmas the following year.
 
Influenced by the Dutch and Portuguese, Santa is known as Sinterklas, and the season is named Natal. Much like other celebrations in Indonesia, celebratory dances and rituals are performed during the season for some unique local flavour. The community come together, sharing generously with one another to make for a truly unforgettable experience in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
 
Caribbean
 
P&O UKHolland AmericaRoyal Caribbean and many more lines explore the Caribbean over Christmas, with each island having their own traditions for you to explore. Here are some of things you may experience whilst visiting each stunning port.
 
Jamaicans dance to the beat of their own drum over Christmas, singing carols to a reggae tune. Trinidad and Tobago reveal their Spanish cultural influence in their music, but also in their food which makes for a delicious twist. The French-colonised islands celebrate right through to January 6th which commemorates “Les Rois” - the coming of the three wise men – with places including Guadeloupe sharing a réveillon, or late night meal, after the church service.
 
You can participate in the Nine Mornings Festival in St Vincent and the Grenadines. For nine days leading up to the 25th, everyone is up at the crack of dawn to celebrate with swimming dancing, bike riding, churches and concerts. It isn't really known or understood why there is a need to be so energetic so early in the morning, but it's a crazy few days to really get out of your comfort zone!
 
The Caribbean is home to some world-renowned food which is definitely worth a taste test during your stay. From chow mein in Guyana to garlic pork in Antigua, to jerk chicken and the festive drink of Sorrel in Jamaica, your taste buds will enjoy an exotic holiday, too! Hospitality in the Caribbean is even greater than normal over the holiday season, so you'll likely be welcomed with open arms by the locals to try many of the different dishes.
 
Mediterranean
 
In the Mediterranean, you'll have the opportunity to stop in at ports including France, Spain, Greece and plenty more – an incredible array of culture to enjoy Christmas in! MSC Cruises tend to be the main line offering cruises around the region in December, giving you the opportunity to dive head first into a classic wintery Christmas. It may be a little warmer around the coasts, but if you drive inland far enough you may even catch a glimpse of that famous white stuff – snow!

One quirky feature of a Barcelonean Christmas is the “shitter” figurine found in most nativity scenes. Known as Caganer in the regional language, he can be found with his pants down and squatting – an interesting site in an otherwise age old scene!
 
Although Christmas trees are gaining popularity in Greece, the primary symbol of the season continues to be a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire around the rim, intertwined with basil and a wooden cross. Each day, holy water is sprinkled around the house using these.
 
The best part of most celebrations in Europe is, of course, the food and drink. Mulled wine is something you may already be familiar with, but the Europeans have this spicy, warm concoction down to an art. Eastern Europe offers potato pancakes, doughnuts and other delicious pastries that are fit for a king and the French finish ever dinner meal with a “bûche de noёl” or yule log. You are certainly going to be left with joy in your hearts and plenty of food in your bellies after a Christmas here!
 
 
 
We want to hear about your Christmas experience overseas! Have you had a winter Christmas? A tropical one? If not, maybe it's time you tried one for yourself. Check out our December 2015 cruises - or December 2016, for those forward planners.
 

I'm new to the cruise industry, but travel is definitely something close to my heart! Last year I spent time in the UK, as well as Tokyo, Paris and Shanghai, but I still have a long list of places I'd like to visit. Cruising is the perfect way to make your journey between destinations as memorable and enjoyable as the time you spend in new cities, and I'm looking forward to helping you create the perfect trip.

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