While there was a time when being away from home over the festive season was unthinkable, more and more people are now opting to holiday over this period, spending Christmas day on a sun lounger.
Here are few destinations to consider, and rest assured… Santa knows exactly how to get to them too!
All seven Canary Islands are well-known for affordable winter sun, with only short flights from Ireland. While they are not quite as hot as their long-haul counterparts, the temperature averages 19 °C in December, and all islands celebrate the festival of Christmas, giving visitors the chance to enjoy the festivities, while escaping the winter chill at home.
Although don’t expect turkey or mince pies, the traditional festive meal is on Christmas eve aka La Noche Buena (the Good Night) and includes; white asparagus (esparragos blancos) and giant prawns in a Marie Rose sauce (langostinos con salsa rosa) as popular appetizers. Fish usually replaces fowl as the main course, and sticky fingers are guaranteed with the inevitable end-of-the-meal turrón, an almond candy that’s very sweet. Yum!
Spain’s highest mountain, Mount Teide, is on the island of Tenerife and often dons a white coat in the winter months, so if you fancy it, you can head up the volcano with the locals to sled and build snowmen, and one of the most bizarre images you’re likely to see is a snowman on the bonnet of a car parked next to a beach full of swimwear clad sunbathers. It’s a rare sight though as, for obvious reasons, the life of a snowman is short at Tenerife’s warm coast.
While locals would say that December is a cool time to visit, Cancun in South-East Mexico has an average temperature of 24°C for the month, created by highs of 28°C at the hottest part of the day, cooling down to 21°C after sunset, so, for us Irish in winter, it is hot!
The Riviera Maya is a stretch of Caribbean coastline on Mexico’s North-Eastern Yucatán Peninsula which is known for its numerous all-inclusive resorts and its long white sandy beaches, thus providing the perfect tropical paradise for relaxation over the festive period.
Christmas in Mexico is celebrated from early December until 6 January – so you will still experience a festive vibe over this period, as it is one of the biggest fiestas of the year for locals! A common, yet familiar tradition is the Posada, a recreation of Mary (on donkey) and Joseph searching for a “room at the inn”, accompanying them is a choir of small children who knock on doors asking for lodging for the weary couple. By previous arrangement, there are no takers!
Christmas is recognised in Egypt due to the fact that about 15% of the population is Christian, although it is not marked on the 25 December but in January instead. However, of course the season is distinguished with the resorts and hotels all beautifully decorated in festive mode, making much of 25 and 31 December with gala dinners and huge buffets!
Guaranteed sunshine (temperatures sit around 23°C during the day) and beautiful beaches make the Red Sea resorts such as; Sharm El Sheikh, Taba, Hurghada and Makadi Bay, great for a sunny festive period.
It is said that Egypt is the birthplace of the Christmas tree, dating from a period long before the Christian era. The palm tree is known to put forth a shoot every month and a spray of this tree with twelve shoots was used in Egypt during the time of the winter solstice as a symbol of the year completed. Upon reaching Italy, the tradition became a branch of any tree (the tip of the fir was found most suitable due to its pyramidal or conical shape) and was decorated with burning tapers lit in honor of Saturn, whose Saturnalia was celebrated from the 17th to the 21st of December. Later the tradition of decorating trees was carried forward and became a noted part of the Christmas season.
Now, if after reading all the above you’ve realised that you may actually miss that cold, open-fire, snuggly winter feeling, but fancy a break, then here is one for you…
Reykjavik in December is guaranteed to be cold (normally between -2 and 2 degrees) and quite likely snowy! One of the most magical times of year to experience Iceland.
From beautifully-lit decorations to festive feasts, Icelanders take their festive celebrations seriously, with some familiar traditions like carol singing, plus more traditional Icelandic traditions, such as the mischievous Yuletide Lads; figures from Icelandic folklore, who these days have become the Iceland’s version of Santa Claus. There are now expected to be thirteen of them, standing you in good stead to receive a present we feel!
Unlike Santa who is well-known for entering via the chimney, they sneak around and put rewards (or punishments!) into shoes placed by children on window sills.
Start Christmas day off with a tranquil dip in the Blue Lagoon, where lava and thermal water complement each other, followed by a huge feast – apparently Icelanders eat a lot of food over the festive period! One staple for the dinner table is caramel potatoes, a side dish that is very sweet but is surprisingly good with the savoury meat, chocolate cookies inevitably follow dinner!