It’s that time of year again. The weather is still balmy, but your local mall is beginning to stock Christmas decorations. Some years you feel all warm and fuzzy with a heart full of holiday cheer and look forward to hanging with the family, finding that perfect gift for your significant other and putting all the trimmings on the holiday table.
But some of us face years when the thought of eggnog and turkey make us throw up a little in our mouths, our pocketbooks can’t handle the strain and maybe we’re not feeling so much love for (or from) our loved ones. And the wreaths, the window dressings, the Santas and the “harvest” decorations remind us every day that we are not onboard this year.
If crowded malls, mistletoe and fat men with white beards wandering the streets have you down, why not escape to a place where Christmas does not exist because, well, not everyone in the world is a Christian?
Morocco, a majority Muslim country, offers a smorgasbord for the senses that will suck you in and wipe the memory of yuletide from your mind. On the Go Tours offers Christmas week excursions on which you’ll wander Marrakech’s bustling souks, explore the rugged Atlas Mountains, relax in seaside Essaouira and spend Christmas day far from civilization in the remote Todra Gorge. End your trip with an overnight camel trek into the Sahara Desert where you’ll find nary a tree, let alone a Christmas tree.
Swimming with dolphins is so last year. Why not spend a memorable Christmas as an “elephant owner for a day” at the Patara Elephant Farm near Chiang Mai, Thailand, where you get to, yes, swim with elephants? Each program participant is paired with one of the farm’s resident pachyderms, which you learn to feed, wash and care for with “mahouts” (elephant caretakers). The day includes a bareback ride through the forest to a waterfall where the elephants and “owners” frolic together.
November and December are fabulous times to visit many of the Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia when the cool season ushers in mildly warm temperatures. (Spring is the hot season and summer is the wet season).
If the commercialization of the holidays has you down, discover the real meaning of Christmas by giving back on a volunteer vacation. From building homes with Habitat for Humanity in locations across the US to improving community services in impoverished communities worldwide, a volunteer vacation will help you emulate the ideals of the man whose birth is celebrated on Christmas Day.
What better way to escape holiday madness than by leaving civilization behind entirely? Your biggest challenge in choosing a holiday season destination will be weather. Snow camping can be fun if you’re prepared with all-season equipment, but if a temperate adventure sounds more appealing, head south or to the Southern Hemisphere, where November and December are spring and summer months. Backroads offers winter and Christmas week walking trips to Costa Rica, Hawaii, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Patagonia.
If you’re not feeling the full Scrooge but need a short break between the holidays, you’re in luck. The best time to travel is when other people are not traveling. During the first few weeks of December, most Americans are either preparing to travel for Christmas, have just returned from a Thanksgiving getaway or are preparing to host guests for the Christmas to New Year’s week.
Airline prices drop dramatically in early December and hotels offer deals to keep rooms filled during this extremely slow season. If you can be flexible about place and exact date, try Last Minute Travel for ridiculously low-priced fares and packages.
Try an alternative holiday this December with a Winter Solstice celebration. Also known as Yule, Midwinter and the Longest Night, the solstice occurs on the shortest day of the year and has been celebrated for centuries by various religions and cultures. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is the gradual lengthening of days and shortening of nights. Many solstice celebrations are heavy on light and fire as a symbol of the sun’s journey back toward Earth. So replace that tree with a bonfire, just not in the living room.
Trisha Creekmore is a travel writer who bounces between mildly holiday phobic to full Scrooge. The Patara Elephant Farm in Thailand is probably the most magical place she has ever been.