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I’m so excited it’s almost Christmas.  Last year Charlie was excited to see all her presents under the tree but we couldn’t convince her to get excited on the days leading up to the big day.  

This year, she can barely sleep at night she’s so excited.  And the thought of Santa hearing about her bad behavior has kept her in line for a month already.

In Colombia where our au pair comes from, Baby Jesus brings all the toys on Christmas Eve, not Santa.  So it’s been an adjustment for Juliana to get on board with our traditions here in the U.S., despite her shared excitement with Charlie.

Today, I thought it might help us all get in the festive spirit by taking a look at Christmas traditions around the world and appreciating how each culture and country celebrates in a different way.

Here are a few fun ones sent in from some of our readers and experts…

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Christmas in Seoul, South Korea

By Loyalty Club member, Caroline Maryan 

Seoul looks like a fairyland with arches and sparkling lights at Christmas. Lights on buildings, colorful lanterns along the Cheonggye Stream, even ice skating in front of the new City Hall make it a fun place to celebrate the holiday.  Only 25% of the South Korean population is Christian but Christmas is still a national holiday though it remains fairly low key.  Many Christians attend a church service and then spend time with friends. The rest of the holiday season, from December until the Lunar New Year, is full of outdoor fun from skiing in the mountains to ice skating to simply walking along the lit streets.  It’s beautiful. 

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My favourite Yuletide Trip in Austria

By travel writer, Steenie Harvey

The best Yuletide trip I remember was in Austria.

When icicles hang from the rooftops, Vienna’s historic center transforms into a glittery dreamscape. Austria’s capital is a great place to start a winter adventure, and not only for a serious fix of art, museums, and opera. I indulged in Sachertorte in steamy-windowed coffee houses…tried Wiener schnitzels in the cellars of medieval inns…snacked on Erdapfelpuffer (garlicky potato cakes) at the Christmas markets. Always redolent with the aromas of gingerbread and sizzling sausages, Vienna has over a dozen — wooden birds and mice from Spittelberg market still adorn my Solstice Tree. 

Then it was off to the Carinthia region for schnapps, saunas, and skiing (which usually leaves me in a humiliating heap but that’s what the thermal spas are for).  And I certainly don’t miss eating turkey. The traditional Austrian Christmas dinner is even more mouth watering: roast goose with dumplings and red cabbage. 

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Christmas in Istanbul

By Premier Pass member, Elizabeth Coughlan

Christmas Day is a normal working day in Turkey, as most Turkish people are Muslims. However, here in Istanbul, it’s easy to fall into the festive spirit as shops, restaurants, and private houses are festooned with typical Christmas decorations. There are ornamental Christmas trees, street lights, and even Santa Claus to be found all over the city. This is because Turkey uses all the trappings of Christmas to celebrate the New Year. …even down to a turkey dinner and presents from Noel Baba (Father Noel).

The presence of Santa Claus is not that surprising, considering he was born here in Turkey.  Saint Nicholas was born in the 3rd century, in Patara on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, and became Bishop of Myra. He gained a reputation for secret gift-giving, and it was rumored he had extra pockets sewn into his cloak that he filled with fruit and candy to give to children. After his death he was made a Saint, and thus the story of the kind Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus), who leaves presents on Christmas Eve was born.

Most Christmas decorations can be bought in the shops around the Spice Bazaar in Eminonu, as well as in the major shopping malls across the city. And for those not wanting to cook on this special day, all the major hotels offer a traditional Christmas menu on Christmas Eve and throughout Christmas Day. Christmas is very merry in Istanbul!

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A Traditional American Christmas at the Homestead in Hot Springs, VA

By Vicki White

At the Omni Homestead resort in the Allegheny Mountains, the “Lighting of the Christmas Tree” ceremony happens on Thanksgiving. Grandparents, parents, and children gather round in the Grand Hall to enjoy the fresh scent of a new Frasier Fir while sipping tea, hot chocolate, and spirits by the fire. Laughter and Christmas carols can be heard as everyone eagerly awaits the lighting of the tree.  Once illuminated, everyone celebrates and cheers. The staff and guests kindly exchange cameras as each family waits for their turn to pose for a holiday portrait by the tree. And over the next month, Santa visits the resort several times and reads, “‘Twas the night before Christmas.” (He too loves to get his picture taken.)

If you stay on Christmas Eve, you can request a Christmas tree in your room, complete with all the trimmings.  Your Christmas morning could be in your room with your family or downstairs in the Grand Hall.  It’s not unusual for children to open their presents there, too, followed by the most delicious breakfast imaginable when each and every guest gathers in the main dining room for breakfast.  It’s a home away from home I say.  If only your home were as big and grand as the 2,000-acre Omni Homestead Resort complete with mineral spring baths and spa.

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Puerto Rico’s Hatillo Mask Festival

By professional photographer, Efrain Padro

In Puerto Rico, Christmas is celebrated from before Thanksgiving until two weeks after Three Kings Day (January 6). And because Puerto Ricans love a party, almost every town has a special Christmas celebration. However, none is more wild, rambunctious, and unique than the Hatillo (“Ah-tee-yoh”) Mask Festival.

Held every December 28 since 1823 (the same year Hatillo was founded), the festival commemorates King Herod’s sending out his troops to kill the baby Jesus.  The event is a wild celebration featuring dance, music, lots of Piña Coladas, crafts, and a parade of costumed teams (representing Herod’s soldiers) playing good-natured tricks on children and grown-ups alike.  

Participants’ colorful costumes are topped with matching hats and masks, and they move around the town’s plaza on color-coordinated jeeps and trucks.  These vehicles are equipped with industrial strength horns and sirens, so to get close to the action I always bring a set of earplugs (I am not kidding). Each team has a name, ranging from religious (“Los Santos”) to temporal (“Los Chiflados”/The Crazy Ones or “Los Canallas”/The Rabble, for example).

Although you will see a TV camera or two and a few serious photographers, the Hatillo Mask Festival remains a local event: you’ll see very few tourists.  As an added bonus though, the masks love to be photographed, so you never have to ask for permission before taking a picture.

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No matter where you choose to celebrate the holidays this year, I hope you have a wonderful time surrounded by friends and family, and lots of laughter and love!  

Stay tuned tomorrow as I’ll send you your first holiday travel tip.  It’s become a tradition each year to welcome the New Year with all the best travel tips we’ve collected over the year.  Stay tuned tomorrow for the first. 

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