During the Christmas season, Hyde Park becomes Winter Wonderland as Londoners celebrate the holidays with one of the world’s biggest festivals. Last year more than 2 million visitors attended, and for good reason. Winter Wonderland has traditional Christmas festival elements: an ice rink, visits with Santa Claus, more holiday food than you could possibly sample and Christmas shopping. Plus, it also has 2 Christmas-themed Cirque du Soleil-style circuses by Zippos Circus
, as well as 2 massive rollercoasters, a nearly 200-foot high enclosed-pod observation wheel, kids rides and Santa Land.
Portland, OR, is probably not the first place you look to as a holiday destination, but the hundreds of thousands of people who attend the annual Christmas Festival of Lights
at The Grotto
would beg to differ. “We’ve been unable to find anything like it in the world, so we call it the world’s largest choral festival,” says Jane Tokito, development director for The Grotto. “It’s unique.” The Christmas festival showcases a pretty spectacular lighting display with more than 1 million lights (which take 7 weeks to hang). The event also includes 170 concerts, as well as seasonal shopping and a petting zoo in the plaza area. The display of nativity sets from around the world is fascinating; individual sets are available for purchase.
Have a glass of mulled wine (a spiced red wine served warm), a slice of lángos (a kind of deep-fried flat bread) and maybe some stuffed cabbage or kürtös kalács (hollow, cylinder-shaped pastry coated in something sweet like sugar or cinnamon). You’ve probably guessed that you’re not in the US for this Christmas festival. European capital cities have their own individual styles for celebrating the holiday, but few are quite as unique as Budapest. Between November and December, Vörösmarty Square
turns into a festive celebration of traditional Hungarian Christmas practices. Hundreds of little wooden cottage-stalls showcase unique holiday gifts, as the scent of honey cookies, mulled wine, cinnamon and fir permeate the air. Cultural programs and Hungarian folk music help visitors understand the Christmas traditions in Budapest.
Everyone’s holiday season should include a visit to Santa Claus. You may be thinking about your kids sitting on Santa’s lap and running down their wish list, but we’re talking about Santa Claus, IN. “America’s Christmas Hometown” celebrates the holiday with its 3-week Santa Claus Christmas Celebration. At the festival you can drive the 1.2-mile Family Christmas Light Adventure
along Lake Rudolph
, discover the “Shining Story of Rudolph” and even roast chestnuts over an open fire at Santa’s Candy Castle
are aplenty, and for a unique twist on the Christmas spirit, you can stay at Santa’s Lodge
Some may find it hard to get into the Christmas spirit in a subtropical place like Miami, but Santa’s Enchanted Fores
t helps. The Christmas theme park offers visitors about 10 thrill rides, plus more than a dozen family and kiddie rides, as well as shows that include alligator wrestling, trained white Bengal tigers and sea lions. So what if everyone is dressed in T-shirts and shorts? It’s still a Christmas festival.
Right across the street from Santa Claus’s house in the North Pole is a slightly different take on the Christmas festival. We’re not talking about the geographic top of the world but the town of North Pole, AK. The city 14 miles south of Fairbanks, AK, trucks in about 2.2 million pounds of ice, which talented sculptors then turn into amazing works of art. When the ice chips stop flying, the Christmas in Ice festival is a forest of beautifully lit, intricately carved Christmas ice sculptures. In North Pole, one thing sponsors don’t have to worry about is a warm spell ruining the festival.
Jeff Thoreson is a Washington, DC-based travel writer who has been known to wander through a festival or 2 over the years in search of interesting food and unique customs.