Top Holiday CitiesWhere to Travel Now: Top 5 Holiday Cities
Come holiday time, we all have our traditions. Maybe we overindulge on eggnog whilst caroling around the old ‘hood. Maybe we make a break for the nearest tropical island to avoid meeting our mother’s latest 28-year-old “personal trainer.” Maybe we settle in for a football marathon.
We’ve been thinking about holiday customs on the whole. And while you probably haven't given the subject much thought since Diversity Day in middle school, you may have wondered – during your New Year’s wardrobe purge, probably – where those ugly sweater parties came from. (Vancouver 2001, actually, as an ironic party trend that never died. Those crazy Canadians.) And then there’s the Manhattan ritual, for the Jewish contingent, of eating Chinese food on December 25, when everything else is closed. And of course, thanks to George on Seinfeld, there’s always festivus for the rest of us.
In a world of constant change, a little tradition goes a long way. And seeing that so many are born out of the desire to cut loose, why not take a closer look and consider embracing one? We’re always open to new ways to party, especially when it involves holding hands with a stunning Dane while dancing around ye olde Christmas tree. Turns out tradition is a great way to break the ice.
Here are our top picks for celebrating around the world:
Boxing Day, U.K.
The ritual: In the early hours of December 26th, while most of us are still digesting the holiday ham, people across the U.K. are wriggling into their Santa-themed bikinis and jumping into the ocean. Boxing Day – a national holiday in the U.K., Wales, and Ireland since 1871 – has evolved into a free-for-all day of soccer, beer, and wacky events like the Brighton Swimming Club’s annual frigid dip in the English Channel. Also, there are barrel-rolling races in Cambridgeshire and the Pagham Pram Race – “the oldest pram race in the world!” – where adults dress as babies and suckle at pints at pubs along the way.
Cocktails & cuisine: Boxing Day is all about getting creative with the Christmas leftovers, like triple-tier sandwiches made with thick slices of ham, or turkey pot pie. Also popular is bubble and squeak – vegetables from the night before that are fried up, and hence the name. And beer. Lots of beer. Several London pubs, like The Kings Head, serve beer-fueled Boxing Day lunch menus, popularly followed by a long winter’s nap.
The ritual: By the time January 1 rolls around, most of the world is hung over. In Spain they are too, but the holiday party season’s just getting started. The country essentially celebrates a two-week-long fiesta, kicked off with Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) and culminating in El Día de Los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) on January 6, when gifts are exchanged. Catalunya also adds a scatological twist to the holidays: Look closely at the nativity scenes around Barcelona. At first glance, it appears as idyllic as any other, with a thumb-sized Jesus warmed by a circle of farm animals. But crouching in the back shadows is the caganer, the most polite translation of which is the “defecator.” The caganer is traditionally a Catalan farmer in a signature red beret, who (as the theory goes) symbolizes the fertilization of the earth. Head to the crafts fair Fira de Santa Llúcia, held at the cathedral since 1786, for this arresting scene: Obama and Queen Elizabeth crouching and doing their thing. Also, the entire Barça soccer team. Yes, they make caganer figurines of everyone.
Cocktails & cuisine: There’s no question about what to drink: Catalunya’s homegrown cava, the region’s answer to champagne. Skip the cava giants – Codorniu and Freixenet – and look for bubbly from small, family-owned vintners like Parés Baltà, with a cava so bright and tart it’ll make your eyes water. The local holiday sweet is turron, a hard nougat-style candy; buy it at the tiny storefront of Casa Colomina near the Gothic Quarter, whose motto is Turrones y Dulces desde Siglo XIX (Sweets from the 19th Century).
The ritual: What is happiness? The Danes seem to have it figured out. According to yearly surveys, Denmark is consistently voted the happiest country in the world. It makes sense. This is the country that invented Legos, after all. Its icon is a little mermaid. There’s even a pastry named after them. But it’s the Danish Christmas, or Jul, celebrated on December 24, that ties everything together with a fat red bow. The Advent wreath glows with four white candles, each one lit for every Sunday in December. The Christmas trees are strung with tiny Danish flags and topped with a silver or gold star, including those crafted by the master designers at Georg Jensen, whose Copenhagen flagship store features a seasonal selection. And watch out for the prankster Danish nisse (elves), in red hats and white clogs.
Cocktails & cuisine: If sitting around the fireplace sipping glogg (mulled wine) doesn’t warm you up, the shots of aquavit will. So will the traditional Christmas meal of roast duck stuffed with oranges or prunes, followed by creamy rice pudding (check out our recipe to make it at home). And, only in Denmark is the annual release of a seasonal brew practically a national holiday. The Christmas beer Tuborg Julebryg is launched in November, and flows generously throughout the season. But best of all: After Christmas dinner, there’s the scrape of chairs as family and friends rise from the table and form a circle around the Christmas tree, to sing carols and dance hand in hand. Happiness.
Québec City, Canada
The ritual: Circus acrobats leaped through the cobblestone streets when Québec City marked its 400th birthday in 2008; in many ways, the festivities are still going on, especially during the winter. And especially in Old Québec, ringed by the oldest fortified city walls in North America, which celebrates the holidays with more enthusiasm than Clark Griswold. Time your visit for the Québec City Lights Festival (Dec. 21–31), and then head to one of the city’s many holiday concerts. Go traditional with choir-singing in the soaring Notre-Dame cathedral or practice your bilingual flirting at the annual French-Canadian holiday rock concert with Éric Lapointe at Salle Albert Rousseau.
Cocktails & cuisine: Le Marché du Vieux-Port de Quebec, Québec City’s largest farmers market, sells everything from tangy, veined La Roche Noire blue cheese to Atlantic oysters, as well as maple syrup, bien sûr. Here you can also pick up the traditional Christmas tourtière. A king among pies, the tourtière is filled with meat – usually spiced ground pork, though also beef and game – and topped with a flaky crust. (Make it at home with our tourtière recipe). Pair it with sweet, bracing cidre de glace (ice cider), made from apples that have frozen outdoors, which is pretty much an eventuality during Québec's harsh winters. Look for Domaine Pinnacle, an ice-cider pioneer from Cantons de l’Est. For a holiday feast, dine out at Panache at the boutique hotel Auberge Sainte-Antoine, where Chef Louis Pacquelin crafts dishes with produce from the restaurant’s own organic garden on nearby Île d’Orléans.
Kwanzaa, Washington D.C.
The ritual: Kick off the Kwanzaa season with a night of “exuberant dancing” (their apt description) at Kwanzaa Celebrations 2013 at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre at George Washington University on December 14. Named after a Swahili word for “first,” to commemorate the first fruits of the harvest, Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration of African heritage. The festivities start on December 26, and include a candle-lighting ceremony. Each candle represents one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, including umoja (unity), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum also hosts a variety of Kwanzaa events, from storytelling to arts and crafts.
Cocktails & cuisine: Kwanzaa pays culinary tribute to soul food and African-inspired recipes, with dishes like Louisiana gumbo, fried okra, sweet potato biscuits, and Hoppin’ John, traditionally eaten for New Year’s Eve, and made with black-eyed peas, rice, and bacon. The annual Kwanzaa meal often brings family together from around the U.S. – and the world – in the spirit of “umoja."