Christmas Traditions in Tel Aviv, Budapest and Copenhagen

The holiday season may be just perfect for going on a trip to learn how Christmas is (or isn’t) celebrated around the world. Even if your plans for this year’s celebration are already sealed, take a moment to find out what folks do at Christmas around the globe. This time, let’s tackle another three Christmas destinations – Tel Aviv, Budapest, and Copenhagen.


If you need a break from Christmas, think Tel Aviv. Here, you can swap the Santa hat for swimming trunks, and mulled wine for ice-cold beer.
At times, Christmas can suck the last bit of joy out of you. It’s not even the end of November, but you feel that you’ve already heard “Last Christmas” on at least 37 occasions. Plus, the hat Santa Claus wears does not suit you that much (but does it really suit anyone?). If that’s your case, Tel Aviv will be your perfect Christmas destination. You can spend a relaxing Noel at the beach, swimming or levitating in the Dead Sea, and feel the cold touch of ice cream instead of snow. Traditional Christmas dishes can be exchanged for the pride of Israel – hummus – and shakshuka, that’s essentially eggs in tomato puree. Forget about mulled wine for a bit and treat yourself to a glass of beer – why not visit the first and only Tel Aviv’s micro-brewery “The Dancing Camel”? If you have a sweet tooth, that’s no problem at all. Throughout the whole of December Israel is literally clouded in a sweet scent, as the traditional Hanukkah treat is served everywhere – fried donuts or sufganiyot, which symbolize the miracle of Temple oil in Jerusalem.

Trying the pan-fried potato latkes or hash browns is also a must. If you, however, find that you’re missing Christmas terribly, there’s always time for one of the traditional holiday season movies, like “Home Alone” or “Love Actually”. Alternatively, look for a hotel or hostel that Father Christmas visits on his way and where all kinds of festivities unfold to the joy of tourists. If that’s not enough and your heart is still yearning for Christmas, Bethlehem is just an hour away from Tel Aviv. You can visit the Church of the Nativity: many believe that Jesus was indeed born there. Or join the carol singers in Manger Square, or attend the midnight mass at St. Catherine’s Church. If you have the willpower, do not give in to your urges. The next year, when somebody blasts “Last Christmas” or puts on a Santa hat, be sure to remember how much you longed for this.

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During the festive season, Hungary’s capital Budapest offers relaxation and parties in the thermal baths, and design Christmas gifts.
Have you ever watched a blizzard, wrapped in a cloud of hot steam? Well, that’s what you can certainly do at Budapest’s largest thermal bath “Széchenyi Bath”. If it gets boring, you can play some chess with the locals or treat yourself to a rejuvenating procedure. In the evenings, spectacular laser shows and crazy parties that the Hungarians call sparty are hosted there. The thermal pool is a great place for getting over your hangover from the New Year’s Eve party, although booking the „rehabilitation” session for the afternoon of January 1 well in advance is thoroughly recommended.

Design is much loved in Budapest, thus “AT Xmas Gift Terminal” takes place every year – it is a Christmas market that aims to promote the work by Hungarian designers of the widest variety. You can recognize its location by two wooden Dobermans guarding the entrance of the building. Moreover, Budapest hosts “Stylewalker Night”, during which many boutiques stay open until midnight and give the visitors a chance to mingle with the designers and perhaps even get a nice discount. There’s a very interesting market on Kiraly Street in the Jewish quarter, where less than contemporary design objects are available for sale, sometimes referred to as junk. For those who appreciate the traditional ways, one of the most popular Christmas markets in the whole world can be found in Vorosmarty Square. In fact, Budapest gets its festive vibe largely from the trams that are decorated to such an extent they could melt Grinch’s heart. At Christmas, the Hungarians like to feast on halászlé, spicy fish and paprika soup, mezeskalacs, gingerbread cookies, and their favourite candy szaloncukor, that they decorate the Christmas tree with. It is believed that poppy seeds bring luck, so around New Year’s poppy desserts are all the rage, like mákos retes or strudel. When the Christmas tree is getting the star treatment, grandparents take their grandchildren for a walk while parents hang the decorations and candy. It happens this way because Hungarian children believe that the tree and the gifts are brought to them by baby Jesus, not Santa Claus. Although Hungary is, without a doubt, a wine country, make a note to taste the traditional punch drink krampampuli. A drink with a name that good must be good.

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Copenhagen takes on such a magical twist around Christmas that Hans Christian Andersen himself came here to look for inspiration on numerous occasions, and there is a special kind of gløgg that proudly wears his name.
If you wish to have a truly magical Christmas experience, head to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Thousands of lights that bring out the best features of the historical buildings and illuminate trees, carousels and boutiques create such a fairytale-like atmosphere that Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney looked for inspiration there. In honour of the father of fairy tales, a very special kind of mulled wine or gløgg, named H.C. Andersen, is served. For the real fans of gløgg, the place to go is the old tavern “Hviids Vinstue”, which has been serving hundreds or litres of this drink for more than 50 years. The first glass of the season is traditionally raised on November 11 at 11 AM.

A gloriously comfortable or, as the Danes would put it – hygge – place to leisurely enjoy gløgg is the Kulturtårnet tower on the Knippelsbro bridge. For humour lovers on good terms with English, “The Crazy Christmas Cabaret” is a must; it has been influenced both by Shakespeare and Monty Python. The public is engaged in the performance, and the show has gathered a crowd of loyal attendees over the years that have readymade answers to all questions and challenges set by the performers. At Christmas lunch, the Danes eat their beloved sandwiches smørrebrød with Christmas beer and a drop of vodka or Aquavit, a strong spirit that’s enriched with spices. For dessert, they usually have the traditional Danish rice pudding in which a whole almond is hidden. Whoever finds it is lucky the whole year! If you’re not hungry, wouldn’t mind looking at plates, visit the porcelain factory “Royal Copenhagen”, where artists and celebrities create original table settings every year. Perhaps you think that Christmas is too commercialized? Go straight to the “Remake Christmas” workshops created by artist Thomas Dambo, and make Christmas gifts from recycled materials. The traditional holiday spirit can be enjoyed at the free-of-charge skating ring at Frederiksberg Gardens, or at a performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Royal Danish Theatre, or the Youth Guard’s Christmas parade in which 90 boys aged 9 to 16 participate, dressed in red blazers and bearskin hats.

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