December is made for shoppers. Those with long gift lists might want to head to Europe for the Christmas markets. December also offers the best weather in the southern hemisphere. After Christmas comes New Year’s Eve, with fireworks being set off all over the world as one year ends and another begins. An overview of the best places to visit in December:
Travelers to Gubbio in Italy’s Umbria region may not find many ski runs on Mount Ingino, but they will find what the city’s residents call the largest Christmas tree in the world. Hundreds of lights are strung from the top of the mountain to the base. The tree is 2,130 feet (650 meters) tall and can be seen from as far as 30 miles away. The tree sprang to life in 1981 when Gubbio residents decided they wanted to celebrate Christmas a different way. The lights are turned on on December 7, which is the eve of the Immaculate Conception and are turned off in early January.
Travelers to Sydney need to keep their eyes on the sky if they’re here on New Year’s Eve. That’s where all the action takes place at Sydney Harbor. The annual celebration begins with an air show and is followed by tug boats spraying water into the air. Then Australia’s Aborigines release eucalyptus smoke to cleanse the water as they travel across the harbor. Other activities include lighting up the harbor bridge and, of course, lots of fireworks that can be seen from various points around the city.
Unless folks are living in Guatemala, they’ll probably only be spectators at the Burning of the Devil celebration in this Central American country. Guatemalans believe the devil resides in their homes, especially in the garbage. So every December 7, they toss their rubbish into the streets where it’s collected in various places and then set on fire. Sometimes an effigy of the devil is placed atop the rubbish heap. When the rubbish is lit, evil spirits are chased away, through the devil might also be running from the noisy marimba bands and fireworks.
Bahamians have always liked to party, a fact which gives rise to the popular theory that Junkanoo started back in the late 18th century when slaves were given three days off at Christmas to celebrate. They would wear colorful masks as they sang and danced their way, often on stilts, through Nassau. Today’s Junkanoo will appeal to night owls, since the parade starts at 2 a.m. and lasts eight hours. It takes that long for colorfully costumed performers, in groups of up to 1,000 each, to dance and play traditional musical instruments along the parade route.
Vienna in Laos turns into a fairyland at Christmas, as the city’s prettiest square glow with lights and holiday greenery. The markets generally open in mid-November and close on Christmas Eve. Markets, selling a variety of gifts, decorations and traditional snacks, can be found around the city. Visitors with children or buying gifts for children may like the markets at Karlsplatz or Reissenradplatz while travelers who enjoy handicrafts may prefer the market at Spittelberrg or the Christmas Village at Maria-Theresienplatz. Perhaps the oldest market is at the Old Viennese Christmas Market that has been taking place on Freyung since 1772.
Because the Maldives boasts sugar white sands and clear blue seas, it needs no festivals to attract visitors. December is a great month to visit the Maldives as the islands enjoy the dry monsoon with little rain and lower humidity. These beautiful islands located in the Indian Ocean are some of the most spectacular in the world and are, not surprisingly, a popular honeymoon spot. The Maldives are especially famous for its many overwater bungalows, which typically feature glass panels in the floors so that guests can view the colorful fish swimming below. The Maldives is also known for its great snorkeling and scuba diving sites.
What could be more fun than going on an international shopping spree for Christmas gifts for everyone on the list. The Nuremberg Christmas Market (Christkindlesmarkt) easily scores a home run with travelers who like to shop until they drop. The Christmas market in this German city opens the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent and doesn’t shut down until Dec. 24, continuing a tradition that is hundreds of years old. More than 180 vendors with decorated stalls turn Old Town Nuremberg into Christmas City for the holidays. Snacks, including spiced cider and Nuremberg bratwurst, make shopping even more fun.
Palm trees easily outnumber permanent residents of Douz except when the International Festival of the Sahara takes place. Then the population swells considerably as visitors flock to this oasis on the edge of the desert for four days where costumed performers dance, play traditional musical instruments and put on amazing juggling acts. Berber men perform daring stunts on horseback, leaving spectators gasping. Horse races and camel fights take place while a reenactment of a traditional southern Tunisian wedding completes the festival. The colorful festival is like a scene out of Lawrence of Arabia.
Times Square is a happenin’ place any time of year, but at no time does it attract more visitors than New Year’s Eve. More than a million people jam the square for the annual celebration that includes live musical entertainment, balloons and confetti. All this leads up to midnight when the eyes o the world tune in to see a huge ball made of Waterford crystal drop. The ball begins its descent from atop One Times Square as the countdown to midnight begins. It reaches the bottom at the stroke of midnight, a tradition that began in 1907. Then it’s time for fireworks.
One of the best places to visit in December is Antarctica. Antarctica is located in the southern hemisphere so it’s summer there. Visitors can experience up to 20 hours of daylight. It’s also the time when those adorable penguin chicks start hatching. Though off the normal tourist path, Antarctica is gaining in popularity with travelers who’ve been almost everywhere else. Travelers may need to make arrangements months in advance for this once-in-a-lifetime trip. South Pole scenery is stunning, but visitors won’t find any wildflowers, though they should take binoculars because the shore lines are nesting areas for migratory birds.