We know this year continues to prove difficult for so many of us. As the holidays approach, we typically look to time spent celebrating with family and friends as a balm for our wearied spirits. While we may not be able to celebrate these special days in person or as usual this year, we can reflect on celebrations past and look ahead to brighter days.
With that in mind, we asked a few of our Tour Directors to share their favorite holiday traditions, memories, and photos. We hope that reading about these favorite days provides a bit of a lift as we enter these last weeks of the year, and reminds you that when the time is right for travel, we will be ready to explore the world again.
Irena Demsar, Croatia: For me the magical part of Christmas (except waiting for the gifts) was always making the nativity scene. Actually, many of the families in our area do that, religious or not. There are figurines reminding us of the time and the place where Jesus was born. We still have most of the original ones, but we also add some as time goes by.
Our family figurines are one hundred years old. My father´s family got it two years before he was born. He was born in 1922. Kids come to my house and we “build” every year. One afternoon before Christmas, everybody who is interested comes. Of course there are many sweets there waiting for them. We do everything, except the baby Jesus. He is put in on Christmas evening, after dinner, of course.
Arngunnur Yr, Iceland: Christmas in Iceland is always a lot of fun, we celebrate pretty much the whole month of December with various fancy buffets and get togethers around town, the streets and houses are lit up with beautiful decorations and lights everywhere. The typical holiday foods would be smoked lamb, ptarmigan, special ham, and in my family we make delicious beef that’s wrapped with special lard tied together and sautéed , and it has the name boneless birds in our family. That meal would also have mashed potatoes and red cabbage, and dessert is an Icelandic type of crème brûlée, really yummy ! On New Year’s Eve there are bonfires all around in the cities and towns and then at midnight on December 31 the skies light up with fireworks all around Iceland. Everybody can shoot up their own fireworks and it is typically a very joyous and special occasion.
Chris McWilliams, South Africa: I don’t often get the chance to attend family gatherings in my home town of Port Elizabeth at Christmas, but one of the brighter sides to lockdown this year has been the opportunity to catch up with family and friends. This is where I will be this festive season. Port Elizabeth is considered by some in our country to be the poorer sister to Cape Town when it comes to attractions, but it is one of the best places in South Africa for a family holiday. The beaches are some of the safest and most accessible to swim in, sailing and fishing out in the bay is popular and there are fine game reserves like Kariega Private Reserve and the Addo Elephant National Park; all not far out of town.
Anna Gandolfi, Italy: I have to admit that I do not have many Christmas photos, especially with my family, maybe because I just focus on enjoying their company that I forget to take photos!
I found this photo of my trip last year, I was in Vigo, north west of Spain. Vigo is well known for the Christmas decorations scattered around the city center, and it created a wonderful atmosphere.
Balwinder Prabhakar, France: Diwali is India’s most important festival. We light clay oil lamps outside our homes that symbolizes the inner light that overcomes our spiritual darkness.
I miss India very much and remember my Indian family at this time of the year. We call each other up for blessings and for a prosperous New Year as everything new begins from this festival onwards. End of evil and victory of good.
Blaz Bostjancic, Spain & Portugal: The Santo Tomas festival takes place on Thomas the Apostle’s day, 21 December. From the early morning, stalls are erected around the city center, and visitors from across Gipuzkoa and Vizcaya come to the center and the Old Part, many dressed in traditional Basque “farmer” outfits. Traditional and typical produce is sold from the stalls; the main drink is cider or txacoli wine and the most popular snacks are txistorra, a thin, uncured chorizo wrapped in talo flatbread. A large pig is displayed in Plaza Constitucio or Plaza Nueva in Bilbao which is raffled off during the festival. After our typical poteo (wine drinking) we head to restaurant to eat typical dishes such as beans with sausages.
Igor Ribic, Italy: One of my favorite holidays – and possibly the most important one in my mom’s household – is Santa Lucia, celebrated on the 13th of December of every year. My mother’s namesake, and therefore her name day too, Lucia has always been an important day on my family’s calendar. The origins of Santa Lucia are not easy to determine (she was a 3rd century martyr from Sicily), but throughout history her name has always been associated with Luce (light). In Istria, where I live, the cultures of Italy and Croatia meet (and blend!) and the national boundaries are especially blurred. Here, it is traditional to eat only wholegrain bread on this day and one of the dishes my mum usually prepares is the dark minestrone, a slowly-cooked wheat berries and bean savory soup.
In Istria, Santa Lucia also brings gifts to good children during the night, and kids are encouraged to leave coffee for Lucia (of all things!) and a carrot for her donkey! Besides a lot of good-natured eating and drinking, an important tradition on Santa Lucia Day in Istria involves planting wheat grains in small flower pots or vases… as a symbol of new life. The wheat is then a compulsory decoration on the Christmas table. To this day, planting wheat on Santa Lucia remains one of my boyhood’s most cherished memories.
Jacky Paterson, Great Britain: With family spread across Britain (and Switzerland), the great thing for me about Christmas is the rare chance to see a lot of us together. So it’s either a road trip North to the Cumbrian hillsides via West Yorkshire, or a road trip South to the Sussex Downs (coastal hill ridge), leaving family in Cambridge in good hands and with supplies of biscuits and catnip …
And for a little holiday chuckle…
Iris Bravo, Spain & Portugal: Catalonia is a region of Spain full of its own identity and rich in traditions. One of the most interesting Christmas traditions is “Caga-tió“. “Caga-tió” (meaning literally Uncle Crapper) is represented by a piece of wood (normally a tree log), with a face painted on it and wearing the traditional catalan hat, the “barretina“. This character is placed into the houses and schools, and needs to be “fed” properly with fruits and sweets some weeks before Christmas.
On Christmas Day, all the kids of the family or the school will reunite to perform the tradition: they sing a song to the Caga-tió, who is covered with a blanket, while they hit it with a stick. Then the figure will magically “poo” presents to the kids. The log providing presents is a pagan symbol of nature providing human beings with everything they need to survive.
We hope that these holiday traditions from around the world serve to brighten your day and remind you of the great joy and excitement there is to see around the world. Happy holidays!