Two editors. Two very different Christmases. Illustration for The Club by Miles Donovan

THE DEBATE CLUB • October 2020

Christmas in the sun: love it or loathe it?

Are you the kind of traveller for whom the festive season means glittering trees, powdery snow and warming toddies? Or do you incline more towards glittering seas, powdery sand and chilled cocktails? Below, two seasoned travellers champion their chosen styles. But whose way do you prefer?

A tropical Christmas isn’t Christmas at all

Says who:
Leah Craig, senior sub-editor at Condé Nast Traveller

It’s December: presents are wrapped, cards sent, ‘Chestnuts roasting…’ purrs in the background. How conflicting must it then feel to look out towards brilliant-white sand lapped by cerulean waves?

Scrap that – Nat King Cole’s soft baritone wouldn’t be playing at all, because this is a tropical Christmas for those who want to reject traditional festivities and avoid merriment altogether. While it’s a choice opted for by many, spending the holiday in searing heat seems an entirely alien concept to me.

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The joy of the jolly season is experienced in those classic, cinnamon-scented snapshots only found in Europe: a wintry reunion with friends in a pub; feasting greedily on mince pieces with frozen fingers and knocking back hot mulled wine; the customary wonky tree decked out within an inch of its life; that biting, icy weather so brilliantly fitting for the time of year.

Forget the time for giving – your fellow sun-seekers will still fight you for a lounger by the pool

Swap this for soft-serve cones and piña coladas on a Caribbean island and something is lost, surely? What becomes of opening the usual reindeer-themed pyjamas on the 25th if the recipient has no immediate reason to wear them? You could imagine Saint Nick practically sweating at the thought. Many, understandably, baulk at spending the festive period with family – but ever heard the phrase ‘Better the devil you know’? Ditch that crowd for fellow sun-seekers and you’ll find yourself in fresh hell: forget the time for giving – they will still fight you for a lounger by the pool.

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Whatever that indescribable Yuletide magic is, it is truly found at the Christmas markets set up in cities across Europe. Take Prague, where the Old Town Square becomes its own ball of light, with an adorned, towering tree in the centre and glühwein-pouring shacks on every cobbled corner. Vienna’s Rathausplatz is filled with kitsch stalls selling trinkets and delicately iced biscuits. In Amsterdam, evening walks through De Pijp are illuminated only by sparkling fairy lights and hole-in-the-wall bars emanating a warm glow that dances on the water.

It’s a very special time to be in Europe. And isn’t that unapologetic, open-arms celebration what Christmas is all about? That childlike excitement you only feel when snuggled up beside a fire, flames reflected on hanging baubles. The warm-and-fuzzy sensation that comes, critically, from the inside – not the sun. 

A Christmas in the cold? I’ll pass

Says who: Tim Hulse, editor of British Airways’ Business Life magazine

Let’s talk turtle doves. Two turtle doves, to be precise. The ones we traditionally give our sweetheart on the second day of Christmas. It’s an unusual gift, admittedly, but certainly more imaginative than a pair of socks.

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But here’s the thing. Turtle doves don’t spend their Christmases in the UK. As you read this, they’re already sunning themselves somewhere in west Africa. These symbolic Christmas birds spend only a few summer months in Britain. As soon as the nights start drawing in, they pack their bags for sunnier climes.

Call me bird-brained, but I reckon the idea of flying off for the winter makes perfect sense. For the last ten years I’ve headed south for Christmas. I spent one festive season in Mexico, exchanging chilblains for chilaquiles, but usually you’ll find me in Australia. Sadly that particular destination could prove to be temporarily unavailable this year, but there are plenty of other options, from the Caribbean to southeast Asia.

The truth is, you can have your traditions in other parts of the world, but they’re just a little different

Of course, I could always fly to an even colder place in Europe and shuffle around a Christmas market with icicles coming out of my nostrils and a glass of glühwein freeze-welded to my hand. It’s an option. But other options strike me as considerably more appealing. Such as lying on the beach. Or walking on the beach. Or lunch at the beach. Or swimming at the beach. Is a pattern emerging here?

“But what about white Christmases and Christmas carols and all that stuff?” mutter the traditionalists through their 15 layers of clothing. Well, as we’ve already seen, tradition is often more myth than reality. And white Christmases come under that heading. The truth is, you can have your traditions in other parts of the world, but they’re just a little different.

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In Melbourne, there’s a long street in the suburb of Ivanhoe where the locals vie to outdo each other every year with spectacular Christmas light displays. But, this being Australia, the interpretation of Christmas can be a little different to our own. For example, we’re perhaps not used to seeing a kangaroo as part of the traditional nativity scene. Particularly one wearing a Santa Claus hat.

But for me, the best thing about the Ivanhoe display is that you can wander along the street at night admiring it while wearing shorts and a T-shirt. In late December.

Now that’s what I call Christmas. Kangaroos optional.

Do you flee to tropical climes like Tim Hulse, or embrace the wintertime magic like Leah Craig? Let us know at
theclub.ba@cedarcom.co.uk

This article has been tagged Opinion, Destination