Spending Christmas Away from Home

It occurred to me recently that, although I don’t even celebrate Christmas, I almost always end up spending the holiday at home. Of course, the term “home” has shifted meaning with each move.

I asked several fellow bloggers recently to write a short piece about a place to spend the holiday, besides home. Here’s what they sent:

A San Francisco Christmas

by Noel Morata

San Francisco for the holidays is really a unique Bay Area experience that you should experience once in your life.

San Francisco City Hall (big classical domed building) lit up in green and red against a black sky.
San Francisco City Hall lit up in green and red. Photo courtesy of Noel Morata.

When I go back to see family back in San Francisco for the holidays, I always make sure to visit some of my favorite haunts and other festive locations around the city, all decked out in Christmas decorations and holiday cheer. San Francisco really gets into the spirit with all the neighborhoods, landmarks and the main attractions all decorated and ready for visitors to explore and enjoy the holiday spirit.

The huge tree at Neiman Marcus department store in San Francisco, looking up at its peak. It's covered with gold and silver colored balls, and the oval, stain-glass ceiling is visible above it.
The huge tree at Neiman Marcus department store in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Noel Morata

Check out some of the places I love going back to visit in this Christmas post here for all the wonderful highlights of exploring San Francisco. Make sure you also check out the city lights at night time, there’s a lot of places and things to do in the city for the holidays!

Noel writes and shows his wonderful photography at Travel Photo Discovery.

Christmas in Chiang Mai, Thailand

by Jane Dempster-Smith

Arriving into Chiang Mai on Christmas Eve we really did not know what to expect from the 2nd largest Buddhist country in the world. Chiang Mai has a large expat community, would their presence be enough for Christmas celebrations?

a shopping center in Chiang Mai, Thailand, looking from one of the floors into the open atrium in the middle of the mall. Oversized Xmas decorations hang in the atrium. Below, on the bottlm level, round white balls surround a snowman. Photo courtesy of Jane Dempster-Smith
a shopping center in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo courtesy of Jane Dempster-Smith

Our hotel Tri Yaan Na Ros had decorated their reception and restaurant with Christmas decorations.  Wandering around Chiang Mai in the heat, Santa and his reindeers stood side by side with snowmen and Christmas trees.  We escaped the heat into the shopping malls and we were welcomed to the sound of Christmas Carols and the sight of Thai shopkeepers dressed in Santa hats embracing the festivities of Christmas.

We enjoyed a traditional Christmas lunch at the Red Lion Pub with Santa hats, Christmas crackers and of course a traditional boozy Christmas pudding.

A plate of food that includes some sort of meat with brown gravy, some fries, mixed vegetables, and a few other small items I can't identify. Next to the plate are two Xmas crackers. Photo courtesy of Jane Dempster-Smith
Christmas lunch in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo courtesy of Jane Dempster-Smith.

Jane and Duncan Dempster-Smith travel full-time, housesitting along the way, and chronicle their adventures at To Travel Too.

Christmas in Stockholm

By Heidi Vandenbussche

Two sides of the square are visible: old buildings, their windows lit up and the night sky behind. Below is a row of brightly-lit stalls and a crowd of people as wel as a tall Xmas tree lit with white lights. photo by Jeppe Wikström/ mediabank.visitstockholm.com
The Christmas market in Gamla Stan, Stockholm. Photo by Jeppe Wikström/ mediabank.visitstockholm.com

Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas or Jul, is big business in Sweden. The cold and dark winter months feel less depressing with Christmas decorations and lights all over the place.

While Göteborg might be known as the Christmas town, Stockholm is also worth a visit during the holiday season. Make sure you don’t miss the Christmas markets of Skansen or on Stortorget (Gamla Stan), go ice-skating at Kungsträdgården and book a julbord (Christmas buffet) in one of the restaurants.

In Sweden, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of December and most of the public festivities stop after the 23rd of December. Something to keep in mind when booking your city trip. God Jul!

Read more about Sweden at Heidi’s blog: Take me to Sweden! (also available in Dutch/Flemish!)

Germany is also popular for Christmas markets: read my post about why they’re special: What makes German Christmas markets special.

In the Sky on Christmas Day

By Irene S. Levine

Irene poses in front of a tall Xmas tree with blue and white balls, in the middle of an open space inside an airport. She wears a warm jacket and has a grey wheeled bag and a large handbag. Behind her a sign is visible pointing to gates. Christmas in the airport. Photo courtesy of Irene S. Levine
Holiday decor in the airport. Photo courtesy of Irene S. Levine

One of the most memorable holidays we’ve had in recent years entailed flying from New York City to Cancun, Mexico on Christmas Day. During the holiday season, airports are often the common path between any two points so we had some trepidation about traveling during that time. But we heard that there would be fewer crowds if we flew on Christmas Day and looked forward to spending the week afterwards at a warm beach resort. Except for the unexpected fare hike, we were pleased to report nothing but good tidings and Christmas cheer among passengers, staff and crew.

Irene blogs at More Time to Travel. To read more of Irene’s impressions of flying on Christmas Day, see the full blog post here.

Christmas at the Beach in Italy

By Sandy Swanton

Christmas Day at the beach is something all Australians do, right? This Aussie, a long way from home, joined a group of 18 Italians and expats from around the globe enjoying the salt air and sun in 2015 and I can’t wait to do it again!

Looking north toward Cinque Terre. On the left, the sea. In front, a beach. In the distance, a low-rise cityscape backed by cloud-topped mountains. Photo courtesy of Sandy Swanton.
Looking north toward Cinque Terre. Photo courtesy of Sandy Swanton.

Christmas in Tuscany has a new tradition – a visit to Viareggio to eat fish and chips on the pier, have coffee on the promenade, and dolce – dessert – and prosecco on the Pineta. Low key in every way, we spend the day relaxing, laughing and eating great food – because we are in Italy!

Sunset in Tuscany. In front, a row of people in sillouette. The sea beyond them with a spectacular orange and yellow sunset above the horizon. Photo courtesy of Sandy Swanton
Sunset in Tuscany. Photo courtesy of Sandy Swanton

You can visit Sandy’s gorgeous travel photography and her blog at Global Wanderings. To read more about her experience as an expat establishing a new Christmas tradition away from “home,” read “Finding some Happiness.” 

Christmas at the North Pole?

by Carol Esguerra Colborn

Imagine a place where it’s Christmas all year round, where streetlights and McDonald’s, Starbucks, Safeway and other businesses are bedecked with the same Christmas candy cane theme, where street names are Santa Claus Lane, Kris Kringle Drive, all things Christmas, and where you can chat and sit with Santa all year long.

A santa and two reindeer pulling his sleigh, all carved out of ice. The reins are white Xmas lights.  Photo courtesy of Carol Esguerra Colborn
Santa and sleigh on ice! Photo courtesy of Carol Esguerra Colborn

Guess what Christmas Day would be like in that town? It turns into an endless Christmas in Ice Park for six weeks in December to January: the real Christmas Winter Wonderland next to Santa Claus House at 125 Saint Nicholas Drive, North Pole, Alaska.

To read more of Carol’s travel writing, visit her blog, Generation Z. Cruising in an RV.

Christmas at the Beach in Maui

By Nat Harris

Imagine trading in snow for sand and relaxing by the beach instead of stressing out over turkey dinner. Imagine waking up on Christmas morning and going for a swim in the ocean or heading to Haleakala Crater on Boxing Day.

Haleakala Crater in Maui. It's a brown and reddish landscape of hills and valleys, up to higher brown hills in the background. Photo courtesy of Nat Harris.
Haleakala Crater in Maui. Photo courtesy of Nat Harris.

Spending the holidays on Maui was one of the most enjoyable Christmases we’ve experienced. Of course we missed our families, maybe next time they will join us.

One person is visible, swimming toward the camera, under the water's surface. The water is clear and bluish-green and some rocks emerge from the water behind the swimmer.  Photo courtesy of Nat Harris
swimming in Maui. Photo courtesy of Nat Harris

Nat and Tim Harris, culinary storytellers, make up A Cook Not Mad.

The holidays in Guatemala

by me!

Many years ago (1990, to be exact), I spent two weeks in Antigua, Guatemala during the school vacation. I signed up for an intensive one-on-one Spanish course at a school in Antigua, and stayed with a host family, arranged by the school.

My host family included me in all of their holiday traditions. We ate tamales, both savory and sweet, and the noise of the midnight fireworks outside was amazing. (Unfortunately, I have no idea what happened to the pictures I took. They’re probably in a box somewhere in the attic.)

It was all fascinating: a great way to see inside a culture, rather than just stay a tourist. I’d highly recommend signing up for a language school – in whatever country and language interests you – and especially urge you to stay with a host family rather than a hotel or hostel.

But in the meantime, have a very merry holiday season, wherever you are!

And feel free to add your Christmas-away-from-home story below as a comment!

Pinnable image:
Text: Spending Christmas away from home
Images: a row of people silhouetted against a sunset over the water (top) and San Francisco City Hall lit up in green and red (bottom)


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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments!  Read more…
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Great choices here, thanks for putting it together and including me!

Love this post – what a great idea and a great read! I wrote something similar on my website about being alone at Christmas and far from home. Will share the link if you’d like.

Like Nat, I’ve spent Christmas day on a beach…but mine was in Bermuda. Christmas cheer without the cold πŸ™‚

What a great array of suggestions for spending Christmas Day how you want and where you want!

Happy holidays! Thanks for including me.

Bst, Irene

This year is one of those where my two kids have traveled back to upstate NY for the holidays, leaving me to “do my own thing”, here in Western Australia.

That “thing” is: not having to shop at all & waiting for the after-Xmas-sales (in fact, I’m juicing/detoxing so not even any meals to make!), sleeping in, & going to the beach on Xmas day!

Then, come Jan., we’ll all have “our” Xmas together without all of the stress & turmoil that time usually brings. πŸ™‚

Happy holidays to all! πŸ˜‰

Well truth be known I’d want them here, & not having to worry the flights & such, but out of my control unfortunately.

I always keep a bit of acid in my stomach when they’re away. Must be a “mother thing”?

Have a great holiday, Rachel, Best to your family, too.


Loved this post idea, Rachel of Christmases celebrated near and far. Truth be told, over the years we’ve welcomed our distance from the relentless commercialism in the US but there is a tug of nostalgia when we see the decorations and lights. And each year on Christmas morning, we really miss our son and grandson, the excitement of unwrapping a gift and a special dinner shared with family. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

I didn’t spend Christmas this year away from home, but almost. Just came back from a cruise in the Bahamas. It actually, took some of the stress off the up coming holiday.

Next year, we are going to Denver.

Love this compilation ! So much fun to read through. Happy Holidays to everyone!

I really enjoyed reading about how people spend their Christmas away from home. I especially like that your host family included you in all the festivities in Guatemala. It must be so nice to experience the local customs and not just feel like a tourist. I’ve never spent Christmas in my own home since my husband and I always go back to our home town to spend the holidays with our parents. That’s where I am right now. On Christmas day, both sets of our parents gather together at my husband’s aunt’s house for a big family dinner.

Hi, Rachel! What a great round-up of places to visit over the holidays. The Chiang Mai photos bring back memories. I often arrive there just days after the 25th, so the decorations are still everywhere. It’s fun and a little weird to see Santa and Frosty in the tropical heat. Thanks for co-hosting this week. Happy New Year! #TPThursday