Fancy sleeping in an Artic igloo or running with the Santas in Vegas? We give you five ways to really experience the silly season.
In late August, as billions of electrically charged particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere, the northern lights begin their annual dance. Curtains of vivid green and fiery yellow – with traces of blue, red, even pink – swirl across the night sky. One of the best places to witness the spectacle, which continues until April, is from an igloo at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland’s Lapland. It might be frigid outside but who cares when you’re watching a natural wonder play out from the comfort of your toasty bed under a glass dome? If you’re visiting with children, take a five-minute drive to Santa’s Home at the resort. It’s a storybook red cabin located at the end of a wooden walking bridge that crosses a narrow river, in the heart of the forest. Inside, you’ll find roaring log fires, Christmas trees and, of course, Santa Claus. But be sure to book an appointment with him ahead of your visit; he gets pretty busy at this time of the year.
In the market for fun
There are Christmas markets in towns all over Europe but the one in Erfurt, about a three-hour drive north-west of Frankfurt, has to be one of the most enchanting. It may have something to do with the market’s location – in the city’s Cathedral Square, in front of centuries-old St Mary’s Cathedral and the Church of St Severus – which gives the scene a magical old-world charm. For most of the year the square is an open arena but come Christmas, it’s taken over by brightly lit stalls under pitched roofs reminiscent of children’s fables. Along the cobblestoned alleys are delights at every turn: a shop selling mulled wine here, a barbecue firing up a spicy bratwurst there. At the heart of the festivities is a 20-metre-tall Christmas tree and a 12-metre-tall tower decorated with hand-carved figures, each representing a historical Erfurt character. The market’s Nativity scene, with its life-size wooden figurines set amid a forest, is another major attraction. Our favourite spot is on the Ferris wheel – hop aboard and take to the skies to get a bird’s-eye view of the action.
SEE ALSO: Meet the Real Santa in Finnish Lapland
A timeless tale
It’s one of the most-loved ballets of all time but when The Nutcracker opened at St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre in 1892, reviews were decidedly mixed. While most critics praised Tchaikovsky’s score, some of the performances were panned as “insipid”. Things were somewhat different in 1944, when the ballet premiered at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House in the United States. Kids and adults loved it so much, a repeat run was never in question. The two-act ballet tells the story of Clara, who receives a nutcracker doll from her uncle on Christmas Eve. When Clara goes to sleep, she slips into a fantastical world, populated with ballerinas, dancing snowflakes and larger-than-life dolls, including her favourite, The Nutcracker – who she saves from the Mouse King. The production has been staged by the San Francisco Ballet during the festive season every year since that first performance and has become a holiday tradition.
The running of the Santas
Dress up as St Nick for a charity run to get into the festive spirit. Annual Christmas events of this nature are held all over the world – from Liverpool in the UK to Las Vegas in the US. But one of the best runs takes place right here in Sydney. To be held on December 4 this year, Variety Santa Fun Run (varietysantafunrun.com.au) aims to raise funds for disadvantaged Australian kids. You can run, walk or simply dance your way through the five-kilometre course, which features a live DJ at the start and finish lines. There’s no entry fee and everyone gets a three-piece Santa suit.
Big city, bright lights
There’s nothing quite like it: Christmas in New York, where millions of lights turn the city into a sequin-studded marvel. There’s revelry all around, from the enormous twinkling tree at the Rockefeller Center to Central Park’s ice-skating rink, alive with the sound of music and laughter. Take the kids to Macy’s, on West 34th Street, where the eighth floor is transformed into the 1200-square-metre Santaland. They will love the whistling toy trains, giant gingerbread men and glistening ice sculptures. Or make your way to luxury department store Barneys, on Madison Avenue, to see the display windows turned into an opulent set for live performances. Whatever you do, don’t miss the cluster of giant red baubles that sits beside a fountain at 1251 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue). If you’re lucky, the heavens will open and blanket the city in snow, creating a sublime scene you’ll remember for a lifetime.