If you’re tired of the same old food, weather, and, ahem, people this holiday season, now may be the time for you to experience Christmas traditions from around the world. Here are five of the most unique celebrations from across the globe in plenty of time for you to make flight reservations:
1 – Carols in the Domain, Sydney, Australia
One of the most beloved Christmas traditions down under is Sydney’s Carols in the Domain, held in a gorgeous outdoor expanse used for open air events and gatherings.
Remember that Christmas in Australia is in the summer, so this caroling festival attracts thousands of people who come equipped with blankets and provisions for a nighttime sing-along picnic. Admission is free, but carolers can buy candle-bags and songbooks to accompany the choirs, orchestras, and other featured carolers.
Past singers have included Australia’s beloved Tina Arena and People Magazine’s 2008 “Sexiest Man Alive” Hugh Jackman; quite appropriately, adorable Carol Koala is the symbol of this event, of giving, and of Australian Christmas. A spectacular fireworks display also features in the celebration.
This year’s Carols in the Domain will take place on December 20. Space fills up fast, so be sure to show up early if you want a prime singing spot.
2 – Christmas Presepi Markets, Naples, Italy
You can find Nativity scenes, or presepi, in every town in Italy around the holidays, but Naples is the cradle, or better yet, manger of it all. Such displays have been a tradition since 1223 when St. Francis of Assisi asked artist Giovanni Vellito to create one.
Wandering the streets of bella Napoli, you can see hundreds of Nativity scenes—but don’t think they’re all created equal. Figurines include more than the traditional shepherds and farm animals, and instead range from beloved soccer stars like Diego Maradona to Neapolitan personalities like pizza-makers and fishmongers. Two of the figurines added for 2008 are President-elect Barack Obama and future First Lady Michelle.
No Nativity scene is complete without a baby Jesus, though, and you can fill out your own presepio by shopping the markets on Via San Gregorio Armeno, a UNESCO world treasure.
The best time to see presepi in Naples is between December 8, the Immaculate Conception, and January 6, the Epiphany, especially in the Santa Chiara complex in Piazza del Gesù, the San Martino Museum, the Royal Palace, and the churches of Gesù Vecchio, Santa Maria in Portico, and San Nicola alla Carità.
3 – Silent Night Chapel, Oberndorf, Austria
In Oberndorf, just outside of Salzburg, you can hear the world’s most popular Christmas carol, “Silent Night, Holy Night” sung in its home chapel, the aptly named “Silent Night Chapel” or Stille Nacht Kapelle, at the Christmas Eve vigil.
Although the legend is sketchy on whether the song was truly written and first performed in this quaint chapel, it is undisputed that Franz Xaver Gruber composed the tune and Joseph Mohr put the poem “Silent Night” to music on Christmas Eve in 1818. A tenor, a soprano, and a choir sang the first version a capella nearly 200 years ago because of a lack of a working church organ.
The following year, Tyrolean musical families Rainer and Strasser went on tour with the song, hitting Germany in 1832 and New York City in 1839; by 1866, “Silent Night” was a must-sing Christmas carol worldwide for both Protestants and Catholics, and has been translated into 300 languages and dialects.
You can see it performed live at the Silent Night Chapel by showing up by 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
4 – Christmas of Light, Gramado, Brazil
Christmas of Light, or Natal Luz, is a two-month long holiday celebration from early November until early January in Gramado, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. The population of Gramado is multiplied by more than 20 when 700,000 visit this usually sleepy town of just over 30,000.
The list of events is long and includes: the Grand Christmas Parade with over 200 participants, The Fantastic Christmas Factory show for children, Nativitaten fireworks display set to music, Gaucho Christmas concert with traditional tunes, and, of course, the Tree Lighting Show.
Despite the amazing (and mostly free) presentations, this festival is not well-known outside of Brazil; it is estimated that less than 1% of attendees come from outside the country, which means you are sure to have an authentic Brazilian experience at Natal Luz.
And don’t be surprised if you see Papai Noel (Santa Claus) wearing a silk suit—it’s hot in Brazil at Christmas time!
5 – Rockefeller Center, New York City, USA
Possibly the most recognizable symbol of Christmas in America is Rockefeller Center’s enormous Christmas tree, which sits above a bronze statue of Prometheus (the Greek god of fire), between horn-blowing angels, and overlooking the famous skating rink enjoyed by beginners and experts alike.
A tradition since the early 1930s, the beautifully-lit tree attracts millions to the heart of Manhattan, and the festive atmosphere spills onto adjacent streets full of shops, restaurants, and cafés creating a true winter wonderland—everything a city lover could want.
The tree is lit in late November or early December every year, and is usually a Norway Spruce; the sparkling Swarovski crystal star that graces the top of the tree weighs a whopping 550 pounds.
If you’re wondering about what happens to the tree a week after New Year’s when it is taken down, think even more green: last year, the tree’s lumber was used for home construction through Habitat for Humanity.
Photos credits: Sydney photo: Carols by Fireworklight by Leorex on Flickr , Naples photo: Gesù Bambino-Baby Jesus by garagolo on Flickr, Austria photo: Silent Night Chapel by kjd on Flickr, Brazil photo: Natal Gaúcho at Natal Luz site, New York photo: Rockefeller Christmas Tree by wezday01 on Flickr