Top 10 Places In The World To Celebrate Christmas
Widely considered to mark the birth date of Jesus Christ, Christmas is an annual celebration commemorating that event, and is generally observed on 25 December worldwide. Christmas is widely celebrated as a public holiday with a cheerful festive spirit, Santa Claus and Christmas trees.
Here are the Top 10 Places In The World To Celebrate Christmas. These are some of the best places to catch that festive spirit, take part in age old traditions, or simply celebrate with family and friends.
1. Christmas In Napapiiri
Located in the extreme North and bordering the centre of the Artic Circle, Napapiiri in Lapland, Finland, is considered the Christmas capital of Europe, and the ‘true base’ of Santa’s operations. Thousands of visitors descend upon Napapiiri every Christmas for its 3 main festive attractions; the Santa Claus Village, the Christmas Exhibition, and the Santa Park.
Built right beside the Artic Circle marker, the Santa Claus Village is dominated by the impressive Main Office of Santa Claus, whose huge clock tower supposedly slows time on Christmas day so that Santa can visit all the world’s children. The big man, Santa Claus himself, receives visitors all year round in his homely abode, where you’ll also get to meet his family. Over in Santa Park, visitors can assist Santa’s helpers in their workshops, or go for reindeer rides in a sleigh.
Napapiiri also has the Christmas House, a nostalgic exhibition of Christmas traditions around the world. Historical Christmas films are screened here daily, and visitors can also view a display of rare Christmas decorations collected from several countries. Napapiiri is also one of the best places to catch the ‘Nightless Night’, where the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon.
2. Christmas In Santa Claus
City: Santa Claus
Country: United States Of America
In the town of Santa Claus (yes, that is really the name of the town) in Indiana, United States Of America, Christmas can be commemorated all year long. Many of the streets and landmarks in the town of Santa Claus carry festive names, such as its 3 iconic lakes of Lake Holly, Christmas Lake and Lake Noel.
But the best time to visit the town of Santa Claus is during the festive season, when residents really get into the mood of Christmas, and the town is beautifully decorated in festive cheer.
Every year, visitors flock to the numerous Christmas themed attractions here in Santa Claus, including the Santa Claus Museum, Santa’s Candy Castle, Santa’s Stables, Frosty’s Fun Center and the Holiday World theme park. In particular, the Holiday World theme park has 2 of the world’s best, stomach churning wooden roller coasters, The Voyage and The Raven, as well as 2 of the world’s longest water coasters, The Mammoth and The Wildebeest.
Over at the Lake Rudolph Campground, the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is told through giant drive-by storyboards and LED lights every night.
The town of Santa Claus is also known for having the world’s only official Post Office to bear the name of Santa Claus. Because of its name, this post office receives thousands of letters every year from children, ranging from gift requests for the latest toys, to heart rending pleas to cure grandparents from cancer.
Since 1914, a group of volunteers known as Santa’s Elves has dedicated their time to ensure each child personally receives a reply from Santa Claus.
3. Christmas In Bethlehem
State: West Bank
Many people observe Christmas as a religious occasion, and one of the best religious sites to visit during Christmas is Bethlehem, in the land locked territory of West Bank, Palestine. Considered to be the birth place of Jesus Christ, a major figure in several world religions, tourism to Bethlehem understandably peaks during Christmas when the city plays host to thousands of Christmas pilgrims.
Pilgrims to Bethlehem during the festive season will often take part in mass at churches, enjoy performing carollers or choirs in the streets, or visit significant religious sites such as the Tomb of Rachel, Manger Square or the Church of the Nativity.
The Church of the Nativity is traditionally considered the cave / manger where Jesus Christ was born, with a fourteen-point silver star marking the exact spot of the birth. Locals may paint the sign of the cross over their door, and the city square often has a manger scene, and a Christmas Tree with a glowing star set up at the top.
Christmas Eve is when the dramatic annual Christmas procession in Bethlehem takes place. Mounted horsemen from the police often lead the procession, followed by a lone horsemen carrying a cross.
Behind the horsemen come the city officials, the religious leaders, the local citizens, and finally the pilgrims and visitors. The procession winds its way through the city to Manger Square and ends at the Church of the Nativity, where the Christmas Mass is then observed.
4. Christmas In Cologne
State: North Rhine-Westphalia
Those who consider Christmas shopping to be the best part of Christmas can do little better than to visit the world’s best and biggest Christmas market in Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Visited by millions during the festive season, the humongous sprawling market spread over the city centre of Cologne is divided into 8 themed areas, each having its own special atmosphere.
The oldest, original Christmas market in Cologne is the Angel’s Market in Neumarkt, with its heavenly theme, angels dressed in white, starry sky, and charming chalets. Directly next to it is the Market Of Fairy Tales in Rudolfplatz, inspired by the Brothers Grimm, where you can meet various fairy tale characters.
Situated along the Rhine River at Rheinauhafen, the Harbour Market is designed to look like sailing ships at sea, and with the Rhine Pirates characters and its nautical theme, sells a variety of fish and seafood, seafaring goods and high quality crafts.
The most iconic Christmas market in Cologne is the Cologne Cathedral Market in Margarethenkloster, featuring the iconic building in the background and the largest Christmas tree in the country, it offers regional specialities and organic food.
Families may want to visit the House Gnomes Market / Old Market in Alter Markt, with its rustic charm, traditional stalls of craftsmen, quaint themed alleys, house gnomes characters, children’s roundabout, puppet theatre and many toy stands.
5. Christmas In Amsterdam
State: North Holland
Amsterdam begins its Christmas celebrations with a dazzling display in the annual Festival Of Lights, illuminating selected canals and walking routes with spectacular illuminated artworks, as well as a 20 metre high Christmas Tree in Dam Square, decorated by 4 kilometres of Christmas lights.
Locals partake in Ice Skating throughout the city, whether at the biggest ice skating rink in Jaap Eden, or at smaller rinks such as Leidseplein. On some years, the canals freeze over, providing a truely magical experience of skating over the frozen canals.
Concerts are aplently in Amsterdam during the festive season at the Concertgebouw, with performances by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra or the Dutch National Ballet, and at least 1 version of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’. Another highly anticipated annual event is the Wereldkerstcircus (World Christmas Circus) at Theater Carré, where international circus acts have performed for over 2 decades.
Or simply party the night away at the most happening night clubs in Amsterdam such as ‘Escape’ or ‘Bitterzoet’.
Amsterdam hosts the largest Christmas parade in the world, commerating Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas as he is known here. His traditional ‘helpers’, known as Zwarte Pieten (Black Peter), are also an iconic part of the festive celebrations.
The kilometre long parade of boats and floats traditionally begins in the Amstel River, then sails down to the Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum), where it continues through the streets to Dam Square, and finally ends at Stadsschouwburg.
6. Christmas In New York
City: New York
State: New York State
Country: United States Of America
Immortalised in countless Hollywood movies, the Christmas celebrations in New York City is both mesmerizing and magical. At its heart is the famous Rockefeller Center, with its iconic 80-foot tall Christmas tree decked out in holiday finest of 45,000 LED lights, and the ice-skating rink in the concourse that draws hundreds every year.
New York City is also the quintessential icon of Christmas shopping, with hordes of festive shoppers thronging the streets amid the wonderland of lights, set pieces and animatronics. These festive window displays are among the best in the world, with professional window designers customizing each individual window display for major departmental stores.
Classic Christmas songs are played in every shop, and carollers perfrom them on stages throughout the city. The most well-known Christmas performance in New York is the Rockettes in their Santarina outfits, performing at the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Couples may opt for a romantic horse drawn carriage ride through the picturesque Central Park, while visitors to the Empire State Building may notice its festive red and green lightings.
7. Christmas In Rome
Christmas in Rome is traditionally a solemn affair, though in recent years, its become a lot more festive. Christmas trees are erected at iconic locales such as the Colosseum, Saint Peter’s Square and Piazza Venezia, while musicians and buskers roam the beautifully decorated main streets. Vendors of roast chestnuts do brisk business, while bakeries produce festive sweets and pastries such as torrone and pandoro.
The Nativity Scene of the birth of Jesus Christ is a big part of the displays during Christmas, and Rome has the oldest such display at the Santa Maria Maggiore, which was carved in marble in the 13th century. The largest nativity scene is also in Rome, at the Church of Saints Cosma and Damiano, and it took 6 master sculptures 40 years to build the elaborate scene.
The religious will not want to miss the Christmas Mass held in Vatican City on Christmas Eve, led by the Pope himself. The event is streamed live worldwide, but thousands still make the pilgrimage here every year just to see the Pope in person, and hopefully receive a blessing as well.
8. Christmas In Nuremberg
Unlike other Christmas markets, Nuremberg takes its Christmas traditions seriously, and only handmade toys and food can be sold here. This makes the Nuremberg Christmas markets one of the best places to procure artisanal or traditional items during Christmas.
Its 200 or so stalls each try to out-decorate the other, in hopes of winning the coveted ‘Most Beautiful Stall Design’ trophy. Not surprinsingly, over 2 million visitors throng the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt every festive season.
Among the most iconic of items at the markets is the ‘Zwetschgenmännle’, or Prune Men, made from dried prunes, birch wood and wire. Over 300 different varieties of Prune Men are available, depicting all kinds of professions. Another iconic decoration is the ‘Rauschgoldengel’, or Golden Foil Angel, which adorns Christmas trees and houses in Nuremberg.
The Nuremberg Christmas has plenty of vendors hawking all sorts of food, from bratwursts, to sauerkraut, to German Gingerbread ‘Lebkuchen’. A unique festive specialty here is ‘Feuerzangenbowle’, or red wine and rum punch, which is made by holding a burning, rum soaked sugar cone over a bowl of red wine using tongs.
As the sugar caramelises, it drips into the red wine below, giving it a unique flavour.
9. Christmas In Panaji
As the capital of Goa, the city of Panaji in North Goa was heavily influenced by the Portuguese, and thus considers Christmas one of the most important festivals in the year. Celebrated throughout the city with colouful decorations and festive lighting, Christmas in Panaji in also marked by much feasting, dancing, singing, and merriment. Churches and homes throughout the city are decorated with lights, colourful paper and poinsettias.
People of all religions take part in Christmas celebrations in Panaji. Bonfire parties along the beach are amongst the highlights of Christmas celebrations here. The nightlife in Panaji, famed as it is already for the Goan Trance music, also gets in on the festive mood, and the various night clubs such as Emerald Lawns or Alva Mar hold rave parties especially on Christmas Eve.
The biggest musical festival is the annual Sun Burn Festival, featuring celebrities from all over India. The live performances, great music, and foot tapping dances means this wild beach party attracts thousands of party lovers from all over the world.
The city of Panaji is also known for its festive Goan Christmas foods, such as Salted Tongue, Chicken Shakuti or Pork Sorpotal. Sweets such as Marzipan, Bebinca, Pinagr / Pinaca, Bibique or Rose-De-Coque are also popular during this period. Communities in North Goa typcially organise their own feasting and dances, and everyone in the area is invited to these communal events.
10. Christmas In Manila
State: Metropolitan Manila
Manila holds the distinction of having the world’s longest Christmas celebrations, which begin in September, and lasting until January. With the Filipinos being primarily Catholic, Christmas celebrations in Manila are a big thing, and can range from the solemn and traditional, to the weird and wacky.
Carolling is extremely popular, and many carollers go from home to home to sing traditional Filipino carols, accompanied by homemade musical instruments.
Homes and shops in Manila are typically adorned with beautiful and colourful star shaped lanterns known as Parols. Symbolising the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Magi (3 wise men), these Parols are an enduring symbol of Christmas to the Filipinos, just like the Christmas Tree.
Parols are normally shaped like a 5 pointed star, and parol-making is a traditional folk craft of the locals, taught in schools during art lessons.
Mass is usually held on Christmas Eve, and families in Manila will also hold the traditional Christmas Eve feast known as Noche Buena, where they will dine on festive items such as Christmas ham and Roast Pork. Christmas officially ends on the Feast of the 3 Kings / Feast of the Epiphany, where children leave their shoes out at night in the belief that the 3 Kings will leave gifts of candy or money inside.
Disclosure: All photos and images are credited and copyrighted to their respective owners.