3 years, 9 months ago
It’s the time of year to enjoy a bit of seasonal amnesia. Cheery decorations are starting to sneak into the shops along with the odd one or two carols. Pavement fundraisers are still on the right side of flinty-eyed and the weather’s just about bearable. This is when we traditionally ‘choose’ to forget all that’s gone before and lull ourselves into believing this Christmas will be different. Obviously it will snow, ‘deep and crisp and even’. We’ll have a Rockefeller Plaza tree and a roaring log fire. Presents will be merrily wrapped and exactly what everyone wanted. And Christmas dinner will definitely be a low-prep, spectacularly impressive ‘Elizabethan Banquet’. It’s sweet, a little bit tragic and we all do it. So instead of suggesting sunny escapes this year, we thought it would be more generous to point you in the direction of a few places where traditional festive fantasy is for real. Yes, saddle up the Reindeer and call us Santa, we’re about to make your Christmas wishes come true.
In December there’s a high chance of Northern Lights almost anywhere Scandanavian with a clear-ish sky. But Norway gets to be first choice because it’s also the giver of most of the world’s spectacular Christmas Trees – Trafalgar Square has been thanking the Norwegians every year since the 1950s. No surprise then that Oslo has always been the most magical city for traditions, ancient customs, fairy tale snow, cute stocking capped kids and general festive gorgeousness. There are over 20 markets across the city from November 14th until Christmas Eve from the charming Spikersuppa to the annual Young Designers’ Market. Everywhere you look you’ll find Gingerbread Houses, marzipan pigs – marzipan just about everything in fact – jugs of spicy Glogg, chocolate, cinnamon-y cookies and bowls of Risengynsgrot (rice pudding like you’ve never tasted and supposedly a favourite of the ‘barn gnome’ in winter). The streets are just slightly less extravagantly decorated than the shop windows. Festive theatre and entertainment and festivals come perilously close to saturation point – but not quite. And all the Norwegian you need to get by at Christmas is, ‘God Yul’, only perfect.
Take skis if you want, but ridiculously pretty little Megève is enchanting enough at Christmas without them. It’s the French Alps, so pristine snow and stunning scenery is a given and comes with horse-drawn sleighs and jingle-bell bridles, naturally. An immense Christmas tree swathed in Swarovski crystals surrounded by cute chalets, luxurious shops and Michelin starred restaurants just about describes the village. And if you’re in any doubt about the wisdom of committing fully to Megève, it may be because we haven’t yet mentioned the cosy little bars, roaring log fires, delightful traditional markets and heaps of ancient Haute-Sauvoie Christmas customs.
New York might not score high on natural Alpine charm, but there isn’t anywhere more invested in being bigger, better and glossier come the season of goodwill to all men. And it’s also where they keep the real, one and only, seldom equalled Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree. This legend is so important, Rockefeller Plaza flies a helicopter over New York State for three months to scout the perfect specimen. And it doesn’t matter where it is, if you’re asked to give up your enormous Fir Tree for the sake of the city you do it. And all you get in return are bragging rights. That little bit of local lore aside, New York brings 5th Avenue departments stores and Tiffany’s window. The lights of Broadway shine brighter than ever at Christmas. There’s skating in Central Park with glittering Manhattan as a backdrop. And, it’s cold, very, very cold. So there’s a high chance of snow to add to the inevitable excitement of the most Christmas-centric city on earth.
Oh spare us your cynicism. Belgium is brilliant at Christmas and for two very good reasons: Brussels and Bruges. La Grand-Place in Brussels alone could tip traditionalists in the city’s favour. It’s known as the loveliest square in Europe and hard to argue when you see it with a huge festive market in front of the spectacularly lit 15th century town hall. And if that isn’t your thing, sneak off to nearby Sablon for Notre-Dame de Sablon’ carol concerts and Wittamer hot chocolate on Grand Sablon – another gorgeous Brussel’s square. Bruges is smaller but no less chocolatey or charming. The entire little city is a World Heritage site and at Christmas it could make you sit down and cry with sheer delight. Romantic frozen canals, ice rinks, jewel-like little shops, medieval houses and its very own carillonneur ringing the bells from the famous Bruges bell tower on Christmas morning. Tell us you’re not tempted?
Enjoy a little more of November’s delusion by all means. You’ve got a week or two in hand before reality hits and you’re looking at the rain and wishing you were anywhere else but bearing witness to a savage battle over the planet’s last remaining Star War’s action figure. But don’t leave it too late.