Usually we’re all about a BBQ on the beach and watching the kids and grandkids swim in the backyard pool at Christmas. This year however, we’re dreaming of powdery snow on the picket fence, a lodge in the mountains and European Christmas markets with mulled wine, carols and snowflakes falling gently. If you’ve ever dreamt of a white Christmas with all of the trimmings, here’s what you need to know, and where to go to get it.
What wintery Christmas would be complete without a charming market? Europe is where you’ll find the best, with markets an annual fixture in towns everywhere from Italy through Germany and France to Scandinavia. The oldest markets are in Strasbourg, in eastern France, running annually since 1570. Vienna, Prague, Florence, Copenhagen and Barcelona also put on an excellent market. Outside of Europe, Bryant Park in New York, and the Grand Christmas Market in Montreal are both impressive enough to warrant a visit.
This is the real reason you’re reading this blog. The most common misconception Australians have about a northern hemisphere Christmas is that it snows in most places. We’ve seen photos of Paris and Munich and New York in the snow, but in reality, it’s not guaranteed, or even that common for snow to fall as early as December in these cities. If you want a guaranteed white Christmas, cities in Scandinavia, villages in the Alps, or anywhere far north are a better bet. Lapland, in Finland, is guaranteed to be white, plus Santa lives here, in the village of Rovaniemi in the Arctic Circle. Tromso, in Norway, some 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle is also a safe white bet. Outside of Europe, Japan’s Alps will be covered in powdery white snow. In North America, if Alaska is too far north for you, Quebec City in Canada often sees snow before Christmas.
In Australia our Christmas lunch is all about the fresh prawns and cold turkey, for the most part. But you’re reading this because you’re craving the proper hot Christmas dinner, with snow falling outside. Aside from the hot turkey and roast vegetables, there are a few festive dishes from around the world that would be worth the plane flight. In Austria, Sachertorte, a chocolate sponge and apricot jam cake replaces the trusty Christmas cake. In Portugal cake comes in the form of Lampreia de Ovos, a sweet egg cake baked in the shape of a sea lamprey (a type of fish). In Malta, its Imbuljuta tal-Qastan, a chocolate chestnut cake. In Finland, a spiced carrot casserole called Porkkanalaatiko is a staple. And in Iceland, you can feast on Hangikjot, a smoked leg of lamb (you’ll also definitely get a white Christmas in Reykjavik!)
This festive tradition that many of our Northern Hemisphere friends partake in annually, is increasingly common down under too. If you’re lucky enough to spend a northern hemisphere Christmas with locals, don’t miss out on the Christmas tree trip! From most cities there are tree farms a short drive away, whether you’re in Cardiff in Wales, Calgary, Canada, or Berlin, Germany; and New Yorkers usually head upstate to chop down their Christmas trees. If the logistics are too much to handle while on holiday, there are also tree markets in the heart of most North American and European cities, where you can breathe in the delicious pine smell without the effort of tree transportation!
There is one city where this is guaranteed: New York. Its mammoth department stores compete for the most festive window displays, however luxury giant Bergdorf Goodman takes the cake. A visit to the store on 5th Avenue is an event in itself. If you’re in Europe, Regent Street in London, and the Saint Germain district, including the Bon Marche department store in Paris also put on a great display.
New York probably comes to mind first, and for good reason. You can relive your favourite Christmas movies moments at the ice rink in Central Park, or skating in front of the tree at the Rockerfeller Center. If you want something incredibly romantic, don your skates for a spin at the rink on the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Gluhwein in Germany, Glogg in Scandinavia, Vin Brule in Italy, Vin Chaud in France, whatever you want to call it, mulled wine is the spicy, warm flavour of Christmas in Europe. You can order these drinks at bars, pick one up at a Christmas market to sip while browsing, and you can even buy varieties in grocery stores to brew yourself. If wine isn’t your thing, the UK has a cider and ale version, called Wassail, made with apples and sometimes beaten eggs.
There is one company who has outdone the rest when it comes to Christmas cookies. Those Arnotts tins just won’t do after you’ve tried Biscuiteers. This London based company created handmade Christmas cookies that look better than any you’ve ever seen before. You’ll pay good money for a tin, but if you’re lost for present ideas, these are a seriously good bet. They also sell DIY gingerbread house kits, personalised nutcracker Christmas cakes and biscuits, and Christmas chocolates. Presents, sorted.
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