Off The Beaten Path

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A New Tradition: Holiday Departures from the Norm

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Whether you seek traditional settings or a cruise-ship worth of non-traditional opportunities to complement the holiday experience, the concept of people and places far beyond the river and through the woods generates a host of intriguing thought. And considering the wide expanse of world that is within our unbounded purview, there are many rivers to cross.

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Traditional..And Many Variations In-between

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You can choose a close connect to the origins of reasons for the season by traveling to the Middle East. Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and nearby grotto accentuate any Christian celebration and may be among the best reflections of Peace, Love, Hope, and Charity that invites people of all Faith towards the universal good that has come to symbolize the season.

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What better opportunity for a cultural sharing of Blessings than through the remembrance and appreciation implicit in each night of the Menorah lights that mark the Jewish family-based Hanukkah celebration (Sundown to sundown December 20-27). Also occurring within the traditional time span of Christian celebration, the Islamic New Year Ras as-Sana al-Hijreya (November 27, this year) and the first month of the new year – the sacred month of Muharram, a designated time when confrontation is set aside and remembrance is highlighted by an emphasis on fasting, prayer and family.

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As is the case with many cross-cultural references, Jesus is considered a prophet within the Islamic Faith and acknowledgement of the Christmas season not at all uncommon among Muslim people. Seemingly closer to home is the African American celebration of Kwanzaa reflecting seasonal spirit through a universal adaptation of African Philosophy: Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, family, purpose, creativity, and faith, through candles, feast and gift-giving. Regardless of where we rest hat and coat We Are the World…After all.

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And within the universal tidings of goodness and joy, tradition abounds. Aside from the concept of excursion to ‘source’, London could prove the ideal holiday travel destination. Why London? It’s a place of quaint holiday settings tucked within the persistent urgency of contemporary commercialism. And a holiday spirit that not only includes Scrooge and Company through visions of mid Seventeenth Century Christmas Carol splendor but well-adorned contemporary lights that would seem to offer a good time to all regardless of historical perspective. Events and entertainment on the site London for Christmas offer sound rationale for a long-awaited holiday to the British Isles.

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Germans embrace the holiday season through tradition that ranges from St. Nicholas for the young at heart to festive parades reflecting the excitement of seasonal celebration regardless of age. Carousels, lavishly decorated trees, and handmade decorations and gifts reflect warmly in holiday markets steeped in tradition. The best of the bunch feature food specialties and Bavarian Arts and Crafts with markets in Munich, Nuremberg and Cologne accentuating their city centers while the market at Dresden leaves a perfected a holiday footprint that dates back to the 15th Century with the world’s biggest Nutcracker and other sights to behold. Still, Berlin boasts over 60 markets, both unique and historic. See German Christmas for a comprehensive list.

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An invitation to share in a Spanish holiday celebration is indeed a treasured opportunity. Christmas Eve or Nochebuena is the most important family celebration of the year. Reflection woven into the framework of festivity spans dinner and the Mass of the Rooster (Misa del Gallo) clear through an (initial) sober reflection at New Year’s Eve (Noche Vieja). While gift exchange occurs throughout, the day for presents is 6th January, Epiphany, when the Three Kings bring gifts for the children. Spanish Fiestas

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While we’re in Europe, there’s always Paris: Romantic, artistic and vibrant regardless of time of year. Notre Dame is no less than spectacular at Christmas than it is throughout the year however it might be the perfect time to give a passing nod to the historic cathedral and tower Eiffel, the ultimate of the holiday lights, to make a deliberate path to Nice, Cannes, Provence and the French Riviera in the Winter-temperate South of France for an alluring getaway. No worries, lest you forget where you are there are markets and festivals along the way to fully engage your spirit in elevated Holiday mode…Or not. French Christmas

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For those of you who feel the holidays come and go much swiftly, have I got a place for you. Christmas in Russia offers a different perspective and is most widely celebrated on January 7, according to the Orthodox calendar. New Year’s Day, January 1st, precedes the Russian Christmas and is often celebrated as a more important holiday. However, some Russians observe two Christmases and two New Year’s – the first Christmas observed on December 25th, and the second New Year’s observed on January 14th. Confused? Don’t be; just keep the celebration going. And a point worthy of note is that although many Russians retain apathy from that highly publicized anti-religious fervor of the early 20th Century many comrades have returned to tradition that formed a large part of cultural heritage for many centuries prior.

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Steeped in Orthodox tradition, Moscow or St. Petersburg offer a full spectrum for children and the ‘children in us all’. Cathedrals bathed in city light light the way to skating or ice fishing on the outskirts of the city splendor. While celebrating the beauty of the Christmas tree on Red Square and the expansive winter wonderland of Ded Moroz (“Grandfather Frost”), the Russian Santa Claus, of note are the famous writers and artists who have lived in the city, including Pushkin, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoevsky, and the many opportunities to explore their work. And since we’re seldom far from shopping, the St. Petersburg Christmas Market offers the best in traditional Russian crafts and foods and runs from mid-December through Orthodox Christmas on January 7th.

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Considering Something A Tad Bit Different?

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“There is too much hype and commercialism; I want nothing to do with the season…well at least this year.” And there are many options – cold and warm, for those who believe the best way to celebrate is to maximize winter vacation options. You are forewarned that even these opportunities will trim their discounts in holiday glitter and frill. Just close your eyes and hand over the credit card.

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On the edge of the Arctic, Finland is the place for real reindeer and snowmobile rides through a wilderness of lakes and pine forests. Skiing, ‘Floating” in an ice cold river and a slow sleigh ride – more tame, topped off by sauna, a Finnish tradition. Included is the ultimate Santa experience that only Lapland can provide. Picture perfect.

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Amsterdam is an interesting place and one of Europe’s most attractive cities – for more reasons than one. Architecture and museums abound as well as a traditional and non-traditional environment that starts earlier than most seasonal celebrations and keeps the interest high well into the New Year. Many businesses remain open throughout the season. Tourists are a welcome sight in the city any time of year, and businesses are poised to provide a well-rounded experience to those choosing to spend their holiday season in the grand city. Check out Amsterdam for everything you’d ever want to know about Amsterdam festivities including reasonably priced hotel and hostel accommodations.

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You might just have a desire for warmth – guaranteed and without exception…Imagine that! A close-obvious destination are one or more of the 7000 islands on or adjacent to the Caribbean Sea, with each island spouting a similar beauty yet different in cultural perspective. Aruba, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Belize, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, San Croix, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Bonaire, Antigua, Trinidad-Tobago, and Saint Thomas. Water, sand, surf and plenty of marshmallow-ed sky to augment the most ardent relaxation effort. These islands offer a unique way to acknowledge — or not acknowledge, ‘the season traditional’, embracing the utmost in creature comforts and recreation as well as a natural inclination of explorers not content to spend their holiday between a a rock and a lush place.

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Come to Jamaica. Yes, a lively beach, a touch of Blue Mountain coffee — or perhaps something stronger, to the sounds of Marley – His Colleagues and Progeny…Everywhere; experiencing a Rastafarian restaurant or hanging out in hillside communities that insist on taking the world and its urgencies at a slightly different pace.

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Puerto Rico’s enchantment projects through its history, culture, shopping, music and dining. Historical sites reflecting Spanish fortifications and the phenomenal bioluminescent glow (Holiday lights?) in the lagoon at Isla de Vieques will keep your mind focused in directions other than whether you’ve been naughty or nice.

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Head in a different direction, cross-continental (South American, that is) to the eastern Pacific and visit Charles Darwin’s Galapagos Islands, an outdoor classroom for natural selection theory, nature sightings and scientific geological study; truly an expansive photo op of naturally abundant plant and animal life. Keep in mind that regardless of propensity towards the contrary, it is possible to learn something during your holiday break…Ho, Ho, Ho.

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Look for cruise deals and discount packages online and through your local travel agent to embrace warm (and cold) weather destinations throughout the holiday season and perhaps opportunities for projected scheduling to extend the good cheer to more convenient timeframes in the New Year.

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So with much to-do there are many reasons to enter the New Year tired and broke, a traditional concept after all. Wherever you go, whatever you do enjoy your holiday – even if it’s just over the river and through those Woods. Best Wishes for a spectacular and reflective time and much appreciation to you for due diligence here. Looking forward to your continued companionship as we venture even further Off The Beaten Path in the 2012.

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A New Tradition: Holiday Departures From The Norm © Pamela Kelly Phillips, 2011
All photographic images (non-video) are © Pamela Kelly Phillips,
PK Phillips Photography, 2006, 2007, 2009

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