Silent nights, joyous days!

Silent nights, joyous days!

Christmas bells are ringing, the mood is festive, and our dear old Santa is on his way. Here's a glimpse of merry celebrations around the world

A Christmas tree on Place Kleber in Strasbourg, France

Christmas brings a warm fuzzy feeling of being at one with the world and that emotion is palpable almost globally! Here’s a list of destinations where a lively buzz animates festivities and a bouquet of offerings makes a holiday at Christmas time more fun.

Of lights & trees in the Big Apple

In New York, winter chill and Yuletide warmth come together in a happy mix, like mulled wine at a Christmas market. There’s glitz everywhere — on the streets, in the display windows of shops, especially the ones on the swish Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and at Santaland in Macy’s on 6th Avenue where jolly snowmen belt out carols, reindeer hop and prance, and Santa does his ‘ho-ho’ gig. The gigantic Christmas tree at Rockefeller Centre is lit with great fanfare in late November and the lights are on till the first week of January.

Christmas decorations in New York Stock Exchange
Christmas decorations in New York Stock Exchange

Revellers twirl and whirl on the ice skating rink at Central Park and at Rockefeller Center, and crowds throng Carnegie Hall, the famous concert venue, to listen to stirring carols, and attend a concert or two. And at all the swish hotels, Christmas trees soar and glow in welcome. In one of them, there is also a ‘Santa Mailbox’ in which children can deposit their wish list to be sent to Santa Claus’s home in the North Pole!

Old town Xmas vibes in Nice

In the little streets of the old town in Nice, in southern France, the Christmas spirit is very much alive, especially in that magical hour when street lamps strafe the dark with pinpoints of warm light, and cafes and boutiques tart themselves up with neon lipstick. This lovely Mediterranean city distils the romance of the French Riviera, all through the year, but around Xmas, it acquires the glow of a new bride. The flamboyant lights display at Place Massena and Place Garibaldi; the Promenade des Anglais lined with illuminated palm trees; the life-like tableau of the Nativity at Place Rossetti; and the stirring Midnight Mass at Cathedral Saint Reparate in Old Nice where soaring voices add to that inimitable Xmas feeling…

And that’s not all. Albert Gardens is transformed into a Christmas village with six enticing chalets studded with craft products on a Christmas theme, a ‘tasting’ area and the House of Father Christmas. Later, head out to some of the 15 mountain villages, accessible from Nice, to get the feeling of a rural Christmas.

Xmas, Southeast Asian style

Life is a celebration in Singapore, more so when there is a reason to eat, drink and be merry! And shop, of course! Orchard Road, where consumerism is the reigning God, decks itself up in lights to attract revellers and shopaholics while Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Olaf from Frozen, and Disney princesses make for happy optics. Stop by Christmas Village nearby where live performances kick off, while a giant two-storey high carousel spins, and a Viking ship adds to the larger-than-life aura of the place. Gardens by the Bay flaunts Asia’s tallest Christmas tree, and buzzes with entertaining acts. Restaurants and cafes groan with Christmas goodies, while Santas in flaming red suits and flowing white beards strut their stuff amidst fake snow.

Head to Snow City for a white Christmas. Experience a blizzard and sing along with Christmas carollers. Thaw out at Marina Bay Carnival with its rides, games and food kiosks. There was also a ‘Santa Run’ this year on December 2. The proceeds from this run were donated to Make-a-Wish Foundation, Singapore, so that children who are terminally ill could transform their wishes into a glowing reality. That’s definitely Christmas with a difference!

Advent in Zagreb

Don’t expect to see grandiose floodlit monuments hunkering on narrow cobblestone streets in Zagreb, the pretty little capital of Croatia with a quirky, sprightly beat. Zagreb is central Europe’s new capital of cool and celebrates Christmas with verve from December 1 to January 6 every year. Its illuminated Xmas market buzzes with open-air entertainment, artists’ stalls, upbeat live music and dance, plus a smorgasbord of gourmet fare. And all of it is wreathed in the aroma of gingerbread, mulled wine, plump sausages, cinnamon doughnuts and other hearty fares.

Ice Park, laid out between Tomislav Square and the iconic Art Pavilion, is an incredible expanse of ice and lights where you can spin, pirouette and glide on your skates. Instructors are around to help the newbie not to teeter and fall! Another attraction is Zrinjevac Park which twinkles with a thousand lights, where music throbs, and handmade souvenirs and mouth-watering goodies abound. The city even hosts fun happenings like an ice sculpture festival, over 500 concerts, DJ events, brass bands in convivial squares… Indeed, for all its efforts, Zagreb has won the ‘Best Christmas Market’ in Europe award on numerous occasions.

Snowy fun in Banff, Canada

This is the white Christmas of your dreams; of picture-postcard perfection where the Rocky Mountains embrace the reveller in a chilly hug. In the resort town of Banff, located in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, freezing temperatures cease to matter. If you like to ski, head out to the nearby slopes mantled in powder-soft snow or get adventurous and try your hand at dog sledding. Kids can get to know the dogs before or after the ride. Clip-clop down the illuminated streets of Banff in a horse-drawn sleigh with bells jingling even as you huddle into a warm blanket. The trees are draped in icicles of snow and the mountains that backdrop the town exude an unearthly radiance even after the sun has set.

Town Church at Banff, Canada
Town Church at Banff, Canada

Or just curl up before a roaring fire in your hotel lobby and dream, and later indulge the gourmand in you at a lavish dinner in a local restaurant. Work off some calories the next day on a guided wilderness walk, a snowshoe tour, or sashay and float on an ice rink in Banff. Or head to the gorgeous Lake Louise, a 45-minute drive away. Back in Banff, grab your camera and head outdoors as the night skies in the winter here are Instagram-gorgeous.

Santa in Sydney

Sydney, Australia, is a comely city at all times but over Christmas, this southern hemisphere metropolis is abuzz with carols, ablaze with lights, and Santa arrives with great aplomb in a cycle-drawn sleigh to light the giant Christmas tree in Martin Place. Santa is accompanied by the city’s Lord Mayor and then the high jinks begin — foot-tapping entertainment followed by fireworks that set alight the night sky.

Santa Claus with a choir in Sydney
Santa Claus with a choir in Sydney

Looking for more bling? Head to Queen Victoria Building (QVB) near Town Hall to gawp at the 24-metre-high Swarovski Christmas tree, dripping with 82,000 crystals and 65,150 lights. In Enchanted Garden of QVB, Santa holds court in the run-up to Xmas. On a Sunday in December, thousands of Sydneysiders throng Carols in the Domain, next door to Royal Botanic Garden, for Australia’s largest free concert where celebrities belt out their favourite Xmas melodies, and much more.

Though Christmas in summertime means the absence of mulled wine, there are markets galore hawking fresh produce and exquisite bespoke knick-knacks. Also check out Pitt Street Mall with its canopy of lights and Christmas trees hanging from the ceiling, over the heads of shoppers. Sydney’s beaches are a welcome escape from the heat, and the fireworks that bow out to star-studded skies are a bonus.