Spending Christmas Day abroad? How to keep the magic alive


Christmas is a time for tradition and family. But it’s also a time when public holidays sit nicely for a big chunk of time from work with minimal annual leave taken. Plus, the kids have about a 2.5 week holiday from school in the UK state sytem. That’s a nice amount of time to do something exciting!

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a family who love to travel, and are always looking for ways to maximise your travel time around work and school commitments. Have you thought about breaking tradition and exploring a new destination for Christmas?

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Not being at home for Christmas may be a bold decision to make, especially when you have young kids. In the UK we’re brought up with strongly entrenched traditions for how Christmas should be spent,.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, and having the boys makes it all the more magical! But once in a while, we shake things up and celebrate Christmas a little differently – we’ve celebrated Christmas in Bangalore (when we lived in India), and also San Sebastian (when we took a Bongo camper trip around Northern Spain), plus many more Christmases travelling when we used to live in Australia (albeit pre-kids).

And you know what? These are the Christmases with the strongest memories and we’ve really really enjoyed them! Every year we talk about that Santa who came to meet us in Bangalore for Christmas dinner (which included sushi and curry dishes).

But when we are abroad for Christmas Day, we don’t forget Christmas altogether. There are a few things we do to keep the traditions going and the magic alive; no one is ‘missing out’ on Christmas here!

1. Move the date

Present giving is a huge part of Christmas. But a pile of presents isn’t realistic for your luggage allowance, especially when you’re very minimalist travellers like us. And an even bigger part of Christmas is sharing the celebrations with extended family.

So, move the date and celebrate a ‘Christmas Day’ before you leave for your travels; exchange the gifts, pull open the crackers, cut the Christmas turkey, and argue over a game of charades. The day will still feel special as you’re with your loved ones.

The build up the the 25th December is huge in the UK, as it is in most Western countries, and it seems to get bigger every year. But it’s just a date. Even Christians agree that the 25th is unlikely to be Jesus’ actual birthday, although it is the date that Christian’s celebrate it.

2. Research where a Christmas mass is taking place

If you are a family who attend Christmas mass on or around Christmas Day, then research before your trip where a Christmas mass is taking place (your accommodation should be able to help you here).

We have found churches almost everywhere we have travelled with our kids, from Essaouira in Morocco, Bangalore in India, and Bangkok in Thailand (none of which are Christian countries).

And what an experience it is celebrating Christmas mass in a different country; seeing how they do things differently or the same! It’s all part of the learning experience that travel presents.

3. Pack some Christmas crafts

Downtime is always needed when travelling with kids and an hour crafting session provides just that. Pack a Christmas craft kit in your luggage before you leave, ready for when you need it. The crafting result can then be used to decorate your accommodation!

Baker and Ross craft kits are always a winner with us. These are ones we particularly enjoy:

And classic paper chains are always a winner! Although it’s always handy to have a stapler or sellotape with you as they always seem to fall apart after a day or so.

4. Pack one small present from Father Christmas

A few years ago, my kids came home from a playdate and asked why Santa had brought their friend eight LEGO kits, but they only got one. We explained to our kids right there and then that Father Christmas only brings one present per child and it’s never too expensive, but has lots of thought behind it.

So when it came to Christmas Day in our Bongo in Spain, the boys had one present to open that was delivered from Father Christmas overnight, plus a couple of small necessities (we were off skiing in La Molina soon after this, hence the ski goggles). The other presents from family and us parents had been opened before the travels.

5. Plan something special to do on Christmas Day

Admittedly most things will be closed if you’re in a Christian country for Christmas Day. But even in San Sebastian in 2021 we had a fantastic day eating tapas (restaurants were open), wandering the old town, hiking up to a view point, riding a Ferris wheel, and playing on the beach.

If you’re visiting a non-Christian country, it’s likely that it’s business as usual, so plan to do something different that you would never do at home; climb a mountain, go surfing, visit temples, go paragliding.

Embrace the fact that this is a very different Christmas and will be one to remember! You will be talking about this Christmas for many years to come.


You may also like to read:
Our top family travel destinations for intrepid families
The BEST family getaways for New Year’s Eve around the world
How we afford to travel with kids



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