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HI Christmas

Christmas traditions and HI hostels all over the world

Christmas is a time of expectation, joy, markets as well as films, and music that usually blares from the speakers everywhere. It’s a time of thousands of lights that illuminate little villages and large cities and that warm up our hearts. And of course, it’s also a time of jingle bells dashing through the Christmas night. All this conjures up Christmas spirit in our hearts and thoughts.


Christmas is the most beautiful and the most popular Christian holiday, resulting in the emergence of various customs and traditions. It’s also a family holiday which makes it even more special.

People in western Europe started celebrating Christmas in the 2nd century. The celebration started with incense burning, driving away the evil spirits. The holiday’s roots can be traced back to the pagan religious practices during the winter solstice. In some places, Christmas was regarded as the start of the Twelvetide that was a time when the veil between our world and the spirit world is the thinnest and demonic forces (witches, werewolves, the Wild Hunt) enter our world.

Nowadays, Christmas is associated with Santa Claus, whose origins were a combination of complex mix of mythologies. The description of Santa as we know him first appeared in the USA in 1823. Setting up the Christmas tree is a recent tradition as well, before that, houses were decorated with different types of plants, including poinsettias.

Santa is now known all over the world, even in places where Christmas is traditionally not celebrated. There are differences in how people celebrate Christmas, though. The holiday starts on 16 December in Central America, when children go out on procession each day until Christmas, looking for a proper place where Mary and Joseph could spend the night. Children go from house to house and ask for lodging. The last procession on Christmas day is then followed successively by mass, fireworks and festivities. In Sweden, the oldest daughter in the family, serves her parents breakfast and coffee while wearing a white dress on St. Lucia’s Day, the 13 December, which is when the Christmas season begins. The season ends on 13 January. In Costa Rica, Christmas means the start of school holidays. The Costa Ricans festoon their homes with tropical flowers. Nativity scenes are decorated with flowers and fruit. The Christmas tree is made using cypress branches and adorned with coffee beans. In Finland, Santa is also known by the name of Joulupukki, which literally means Christmas or Yule goat. The goat asked people what they wanted for Christmas. But it never handed out the gifts. Later on, Santa took over its role. Today, Santa receives around 40,000 letters each year in Finland. In Mali, the Christmas season starts on Christmas Day with a mass, where people play on drums, dance around, and sing in various languages. The mass can last up to 30 hours.

Christmas markets are full of Christmas spirit. They’re teeming with local products of various artisans, whom you can also support by buying their artisan crafts for your next Christmas gift and trying out their traditional food and drink. Large world metropolises have many of these markets and they’re as diverse as the cities themselves, so it’s good to do some reading about the locations of the most beautiful Christmas markets beforehand. Germanic cities are well known for their large squares surrounded by charming houses and, during Christmas, they’re occupied by Christmas markets. Vienna boasts many of these and the most beautiful one is held at Karlsplatz, with a large playground strewn with straw in the middle for younger and older children to play, while grown-ups can treat themselves to a glass of fermenting grape juice. After your done with the Christmas markets, head to a Christmas concert at the St. Peter’s Church. Christmas market has existed in Nuremberg, Germany, since the 17th century when a child of God, a girl, started handing out gifts at the main square. The one in Dresden is old as well and the Stollen cake was named after it. The market boasts with figurines made from prunes and the largest Christmas pyramid. Take a guided tour of the city’s Christmas markets so you don’t miss anything. Berlin’s numerous Christmas markets mirror the city’s diversity and I recommend taking the tour of the Christmas garden in the botanical garden, which you can experience wearing ice skates.

Christmas markets, however, aren’t limited to Europe. There’s a market in Stellenbosch, South Africa, that is full of various crafts of cottage industry, food and other items, such as gingerbread houses and organic chocolate. The 24 December is a time of celebration at the Grand Market in Kingston, Jamaica. Street vendors sell boiled corn, sugarcane and sweets. The Australians celebrate Christmas at the beach and one can find spiced iced tea and ice cream at market stalls in Brisbane. I recommend heading to the pool after visiting the market and, of course, staying in a room on top of the YHA Brisbane. There are Christmas markets in small villages as well, but they usually only last from Christmas until New Year. You can experience the charm of pretty villages in a guided tour from another beautiful French Christmas city, Strasbourg. There are charming little villages waiting for you along the wine route in Alsace. After a day full of adventures, I recommend staying at the Auberge de jeunesse HI Strasbourg. The Gardaland amusement park in Italy, which gets a new festive look during the holidays, invites you to a Christmas and winter wonderland.

You can also spend Christmas holidays in HI hostels around the world. The ones in the predominantly Christian countries will undoubtedly await you with a Christmas atmosphere, while the ones in other countries much less likely. But this presents a great opportunity for all of those who aren’t really fond of Christmas to take a break from the holiday and head to Thailand, for example. You will probably still meet some people with whom you’ll be able to exchange gifts, though. There are people from all countries in hostels, which means you can all organise a party taking only the best from each country’s culture and cuisine. These parties often result in bonds of friendship that last forever. Be sure to check the activities your hostel has to offer. They often provide traditional Christmas food, dinner and other kinds of activities.

I hope you really experience the true magic of the Christmas season and wish for a small Christmas miracle for you.

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