The holiday season is upon us, and with it come the inevitable bevy of holiday themed movies. There's at least one every season: you know, the one in which the sophisticated young city dweller heads home for the holidays to a hilarious mix of in-laws and out-laws, redneck uncles and neurotic old aunts that they pretend not to be related to for the rest of the year. We've all seen them. We've all laughed. Because we all live there.
Chances are, you're already dreading at least one of your holiday visits, trying to find a way to weasel out of that annual Christmas caroling party at your Aunt Merle's, complete with nasty, dry fruit cake and the dreaded white elephant gift exchange. The one in which everyone foists off last year's junk and the one nicely wrapped gift turns out to be a goldfish in a Tupperware: Uncle Dan thought he'd be funny this year. Poor fish.
If you're one of the lucky ones who truly loves every minute of the jolly holidays with all of your quirky relations: good for you, happy holidays. For the rest of you, who dream of going anywhere but home for Christmas, here are a few ideas to whet your whistle as you plan your great escape from your grandmother's Hanukkah latkes.
1 - Crucian Festival, St. Croix
The island of St. Croix, one of the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, throws a Christmas party like no other; even if you don't celebrate Christmas, you might be tempted to bend the rules and party island style.
Fly, or cruise to this island paradise in mid to late December and revel in the Crucian Christmas Festival (first Thursday in December through first Saturday in January, annually.)
Sip a holiday margarita and soak in the music. Watch the parades, dance late into the night with the bikini and feather clad natives and eat absolutely NO fruitcake a la Aunt Merle.
You'll want to book your flight early, as St. Croix and most other Caribbean islands are busy in winter. You might have to change planes in Puerto Rico, though there are direct flights from Miami, Charlotte, and Atlanta.
2 - A Christmas Cruise
So you want to escape to somewhere you can't be found? How 'bout booking a cruise over Christmas? Of course you could book an ultra-cheap last minute deal on Carnival, but why not do something really fabulous and very different for the holidays? Like what? Book a week long Northern Lights Cruise explore the fjords of Norway and travel by dog sled above the Arctic Circle to see the sky hung with the colored curtains that are the Aurora Borealis.
For the mother of all winter cruises that your family is guaranteed not to be able to crash, why not book passage on the Epic Antarctica Cruise, departing from the Faulkland Islands (flight from Santiago, Chile included) for a 31 day tour of rarely visited Antarctic regions including the Ross Ice Shelf, McMurdo Station and the Phantom Coast. The best part? At the end of the cruise you disembark in Lyttleton, NZ, a great place to begin the New Year's adventures. Sure, it will set you back about $25,000 USD, but think of the stocking stuffers you won't have to buy!
3 - Woodford Folk Festival, Australia
Are you looking for a quirky, culture rich way to spend the week between Christmas and New Year's Day? Why not head down under to the Woodford Folk Festival, in Woodford, Australia.
The annual fest takes place December 27-January 1 this year. Located an hour north of Brisbane, over 2000 performers converge for a week long kaleidoscope of: dancers, writers, film festival, folk medicine, debates, craft workshops, parades, a children's festival and more.
Staffed entirely by volunteers, the Woodford Folk Festival is a party and a half with an emphasis on social dialogue and environmental consciousness.
4 - Noche de los Rabanos, Oaxaca, Mexico
I've been to Oaxaca more than once. In fact, I'm going again this winter, but I'm going to miss its most unusual festival. Maybe you can catch it for me; it's Noche de los Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) and it happens annually, on December 23rd.
If you're looking for a way to celebrate Christmas that is out of your ordinary groove, what could be more interesting than a celebration of radishes as food and art? Radish artisans decorate the town with sculptures of all sorts, from animals to people and even nativity scenes carved from this unlikely medium, competing for a cash prize of over US$1000.
These aren't your every day radishes, some are giants, as big as 45-50 cm long and they're grown expressly for this purpose. The best part? No one will think to look for you in Oaxaca!
5 - Las Vegas, Nevada
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, even over the holidays! The city is a spectacle any time of year, but at Christmas, they pull out all the stops. See the dancing fountains at the Bellagio (to Christmas music), stay at the brand new Mandarin Oriental, see the Winter Lights Festival at Springs Preserve, go ice skating at the MonteLago Village Ice Skating Rink, gamble away the holiday money Grandma sent, get married to someone you've just met... or, if nothing else, there's always the Donny Osmond Christmas show.
6 - Festival du Sahara, Tunisia
On the dusty edge of the Grand Erg Oriental occurs a fabulous winter dromedary extravaganza. Do a search for festival du sahara or douz fest and you'll get sketchy information at best.
Dates change, tourists are welcome, but not much encouraged, and the best way to be sure of the dates is to drive down to the desert oasis a few weeks ahead and ask a local yourself... or check out one of the posters plastered to every pillar in the tiny desert oasis a month or so in advance.
Sure, it's hard to get there, accommodations are sketchy (we suggest camping at Camping Desert Club Douz) and there is absolutely no Western-style holiday being celebrated (Tunisia is a Muslim country) but you'll be treated to a celebration of the traditional Bedouin nomadic life that you'll never forget Who needs reindeer? Ride a camel instead!
7 - Rent a Castle
So maybe you're one of the many who finds a holiday escape appealing but you'd really like to take your whole, crazy, extended family with you. Why not rent a castle? It can be done all over the world, from California, to Canada, to many countries in Europe and beyond.
If you've got enough friends and family to chip in, you won't even have to empty the royal coffers to spend the holidays living like a king... literally.
8 - Volunteer for Christmas
You're going to love this. It's perfect, really: you can combine your love for travel, your desire to escape the family holidays, AND you can assuage your guilt about the second by volunteering over the holiday break.
Yes, you can, and your grandma, who would normally punish you for the whole year for missing her dried out Turkey dinner will be bragging to her friends about her philanthropic grandchild. You're a genius.
Volunteer at an orphanage in South Africa. Teach school aged children in Nepal. Do wildlife research in Borneo. Those are just a few of the possibilities for a holiday gift that you can give back to the world.
I'll be home for Christmas is playing the background at the department stores. The shopping frenzy has begun. You could spend that $500 on presents... or a plane ticket!
Photo credits: Camel race by Jennifer Miller, Woodford Festival by thornj on Flickr, Volunteering by Nongbri Family Pix on Flickr