11 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays Around the World

By Ralph Velasco

It’s that time of the year again, when the world transforms into a kaleidoscope of festive celebrations, each brimming with its own unique charm and traditions. As we swap our everyday routines for the magic of the holiday season, I invite you to join me on a virtual sleigh ride across the globe. From the twinkling lights of European Christmas markets to the soulful celebrations of Kwanzaa in Harlem, we’re about to embark on an enchanting journey through some of the most spectacular holiday destinations.

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler, a budding photographer, or someone who simply revels in the joy of the season, these destinations are sure to ignite your festive spirit and inspire your next winter escapade. So, grab a cup of hot cocoa, settle in, and let’s explore together some of the world’s most captivating holiday hotspots – where tradition, culture, and holiday cheer converge to create unforgettable memories!

  • 1. Christmas Markets in Germany and Austria: The Christmas markets in cities like Nuremberg, Munich, Vienna, and Salzburg are a centuries-old tradition. These markets are famous for their handmade crafts, ornaments, and local culinary delights like Bratwurst and Lebkuchen (gingerbread). The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is particularly renowned, with its angelic Christkind opening the market. In Vienna, the markets in front of the City Hall and Schönbrunn Palace offer a regal backdrop, adding to the festive atmosphere. The aroma of mulled wine, roasting chestnuts, and fresh pastries fills the air, creating a cozy, inviting environment.  Don’t forget cities like Berlin, Budapest, Bratislava, and just about any other city in Europe, as well. While you’re at it, check out the video I made called Exploring the Berlin Christmas Market in Germany.


2. Lapland, Finland: The Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Lapland, is a top attraction, offering a chance to cross the Arctic Circle and meet Santa himself. The region’s snow-covered landscapes and opportunities for dog sledding, snowmobiling, and staying in unique accommodations like glass igloos make it an extraordinary winter destination. The ethereal Northern Lights add to the region’s allure, making it a photographer’s paradise.  And why not join us for my Seeking the Northern Lights in Lapland tour coming up March 9 – 19, 2024, it’s going to be epic!

3. New York City, USA: New York transforms into a festive wonderland during the holidays. The Rockefeller Center’s towering Christmas tree and the ice-skating rink below are iconic symbols of the season. The window displays of department stores like Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue are artistic masterpieces. Central Park covered in snow offers a picturesque winter scene, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes is a classic holiday experience.  Also, be sure to check out Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and classic Riverwalk for more festivities in the USA.

4. Sydney, Australia: Sydney offers a Christmas experience with a summer twist. Bondi Beach often hosts a Christmas event, complete with Santa in board shorts. The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, a highlight of the season, begins in Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day (December 26th). Carols by Candlelight events, where Australians gather to sing Christmas carols in parks and public spaces, are also popular.

5. Tokyo, Japan: Winter illuminations in Tokyo are a sight to behold. Districts like Shibuya and Roppongi are lit up with millions of lights, creating a festive and romantic atmosphere. Christmas markets and Tokyo’s take on Christmas cakes add to the holiday spirit. New Year’s is a major event in Japan, with traditional temple visits at midnight to ring in the new year.

6. Edinburgh, Scotland: Hogmanay in Edinburgh is one of the world’s greatest New Year celebrations. The torchlight procession is a visually stunning event, creating a river of fire through the city streets. The Street Party and Concert in the Gardens on New Year’s Eve are filled with live music and entertainment. The Loony Dook on January 1st, where participants dress in costume and plunge into the chilly waters, is both humorous and exhilarating.

7. Reykjavik, Iceland: Reykjavik’s Christmas markets offer Icelandic crafts and goods, and the city’s homes are beautifully decorated with lights. The New Year’s Eve fireworks display, where residents light up the sky with their own fireworks, is a unique community-driven spectacle. The chance to see the Northern Lights adds a natural wonder to the holiday experience.

8. Harlem, New York City, USA: Harlem in New York City is a vibrant hub for celebrating Kwanzaa, a holiday rooted in African-American culture and values. The week-long celebration from December 26th to January 1st is observed with various events focusing on the seven principles of Kwanzaa, known as Nguzo Saba. These include unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

9. Quebec City, Canada: Quebec City’s German Christmas Market is a delightful experience, with vendors selling European treats and artisan gifts. The city’s historic architecture, dusted in snow, creates a picturesque winter setting. The Petit Champlain district, with its cobblestone streets and festive decorations, is especially charming during the holidays.

10. Rome, Italy: The Eternal City during Christmas is a blend of spiritual and festive celebrations. The Vatican’s Christmas Eve Midnight Mass is a deeply moving experience, and the city’s nativity scenes, especially at St. Peter’s Square, are beautifully crafted. The amazing Piazza Navona transforms into a Christmas market, and the city’s historical sites are elegantly illuminated, enhancing their timeless beauty.

11. Dubai, UAE: Dubai offers a luxurious holiday experience, with its malls and public spaces extravagantly decorated. The Winter Festival at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre includes a Christmas market, an ice rink, and even a snow fight zone. Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates allows visitors to experience skiing and snowboarding in the desert.

Each of these destinations offers unique traditions and atmospheres, making them incredible places to visit during the holiday season for photography and cultural immersion.

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