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Not all festivals in December have to do with Santa Claus, Hanukah, or holiday lights. Around the world, they can be very different, with scary creatures, lanterns, drums, and fires. The holiday season brings joyful celebrations across cultures worldwide. As the year draws to an end, December offers a final chance to partake in festive gatherings before welcoming the promise of a fresh start with the new year. From European Christmas markets aglow with lights to fiery festivals honoring ancient traditions, vibrant parades celebrating life and liberty, to Scottish soirees bidding farewell to the old, here are some delightfully different and exciting ways to ring in the season across the globe. Here are the best festivals in December to add to your calendar. If you want something to look forward to in winter besides the usual, these are the December festivals for you.
Best festivals in December for you to enjoy around the world.
Krampusnacht Festival Tyrol & Salzburg, Austrian Alps December 5
What is Krampusnacht celebrated?
Under the cloak of darkness on December 5th, known ominously as Krampusnacht or “Krampus Night,” the fabled devilish Krampus beast emerges to terrorize wrongdoers. As jolly St. Nicholas rewards well-behaved children by leaving gifts and treats, his sinister companion Krampus hunts the naughty. This half-goat, half-demon enforcer wields gnarled birch branches to beat and bundle up miscreants. Legends warn that after Krampus drags his screaming captives into the night with claws and rusty chains, he devours the wicked or sadistically transports them to a subterranean underworld. Parents might leverage made-up stories that this ghoulish anti-Santa feeds on rotten souls or sweaty socks of disobedient kids to make tykes toe the line. However, on this specially designated December night before Saint Nicholas Day, adults get a dose of chilling mythology brought vividly and viscerally to life.
Where is the Krampusnacht Festival?
Krampus- and Perchten Parades in Salzburg: Around Saint Nicholas’ Day on December 6, numerous traditional Krampus and Perchten parades in Salzburg take place. Sporting hand-carved wooden masks, shaggy pelts, and heavy bells, these wild figures are said to scare away the dark spirits of winter. A living example of centuries-old folk customs.
In Austria, this festival is fun for adults and often times terrifying for children. The Krampusnacht Festival has many parts, including a race with joggers dressed up as hairy devils, a feast, and massive celebrations. The mythical creature Krampus is the star of this festival with his very scary flaming eyes made out of coals and his matted fur. Krampus is a half-man, half-goat demon whose legend has existed since pagan times and whose Krampus Parade is one of Europe’s most popular festivals. There are a few theories of how this festival started, one of the most accepted ones being that he’s from pagan nature spirits. It’s not all scariness, though, as the main event, the Feast of St. Nicholas, features the big jolly guy himself, Santa Claus, and a lot of holiday cheer. Krampus is considered St. Nick’s sidekick or Santa’s evil twin. This festival takes place in the state of Tyrol in the western Austrian Alps.
Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières 2023) Lyon, France. December 7-10
Glowing luminaries transform the grand French city of Lyon into an enchanted winter wonderland during the Fête des Lumières from December 8-11th, 2023. The Festival of Lights is a community event that is rooted in Lyon’s history. As part of this light festival rooted in tradition, residents adorn windowsills with flickering candles in tribute to the Virgin Mary, illuminating Lyon’s cobblestone streets and majestic old buildings. From the very outset, the people of Lyon participated in the Festival of Lights by placing lighted candles on their windowsills in a symbolic gesture. The city is shown in a new light for one enchanted evening. See over 30 light installations: an impressive lineup of light art installations, the Festival of Lights team has made a selection according to 7 different themes. Runs from Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 7 to 11pm; Sunday 6pm-10pm. An awe-inspiring lineup of dazzling light installations and radiant art projections sponsored by artists from across the globe makes this a truly magical event for all ages.
Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival at Vörösmarty Square November 17 – December 31 Budapest, Hungary
Vörösmarty Square in the storied Hungarian capital of Budapest invites all to partake in old-world nostalgia at the city’s beloved Christmas Fair and Winter Festival from November 18th through New Year’s Eve. Even though this fair starts at the end of November, most of it will take place in December. This fair is free, and both residents and travelers have been visiting it for decades. The Budapest Christmas Fair is held on “Fashion Street” and is filled with handcrafted goods, tasty treats, and hundreds of different Christmas decorations. What’s unique about this Christmas Market is that it’s set up like a country village. Here, families and friends gather around a towering evergreen Christmas tree to shop for artisan crafts and holiday decorations at over 150 quaint wooden huts in a charming market layout reminiscent of a snow-covered country village. Children anxiously await a visit from Saint Nicholas as sweet sounds of live music fill this festive fair that has endured for generations. Santa Claus even makes an appearance during the event.
Burning The Clocks Brighton, England; December 21
What does the burning of the clocks mean in Brighton?
The Burning of the Clocks festival is a celebration of The Winter Solstice. The unique festival takes place each year in Brighton, United Kingdom, when the people of the city bring light to the darkest, shortest day of the year.
What happens during the Burning the Clocks Festival?
The mystical winter solstice comes alive through fiery lanterns carried by crowds along the historic seaside boardwalks of Brighton, England. People of all faiths join together in this community-building event, adding handmade paper lanterns emblazoned with their hopes and dreams to a glowing bonfire on Brighton Beach. This symbolic surrendering of the old year and cleansing ritual welcoming in brighter tomorrows is capped by dazzling beachside fireworks as darkness falls. It is a fairly new event as it was started in 1994 by a charity. Individuals pass handmade lanterns into a bonfire during this festival and watch them burn. The lanterns are supposed to bring the hopes and dreams of the participants to fruition in the new year. There are two phases to the Burning The Clocks festival, with the lantern burning and fireworks being the second phase and a parade being the first. Local people make their own paper and willow lanterns using our kits, and after parading through the city, they pass them into a blazing bonfire on Brighton Beach as a token of the year’s end.
Junkanoo Parade Nassau, Bahamas December 26-January 1
What day is Junkanoo in The Bahamas?
Junkanoo occurs on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) and New Year’s Morning.
A joyous explosion of music and movement overtakes the islands of the Bahamas from December 26th into the new year during the exhilarating Junkanoo Festival. Drawing from a rich legacy of African cultural celebrations of harvest and storytelling traditions, brilliantly plumed and masked performers lead parades through the streets, rattling goatskin drums called goombay. Outlandish, larger-than-life costumes painstakingly crafted from crepe paper, cardboard, glitter, and found objects pay homage to the creativity and resilience of slaves that started this festival generations ago. With infectious rhythms pounding through the night and bodies gyrating in the streets, Junkanoo remains an iconic symbol of Bahamian cultural pride and identity stretching back over three hundred years. Junkanoo is named after the West African John Canoe Festival. Locals and tourists can participate in all-night fun with the Junkanoo Parade in the Bahamas. It starts on Boxing Day, early in the morning, with two parades, and continues for several days. Legend has it that it started with slaves who used to scrap materials and feathers to adorn their clothes and flour paste to paint their faces. Today, the costumes are much more elaborate and can take months to finish. This is considered to be the oldest street fair that still takes place in the Caribbean. Junkanoo is a four-day celebration that always runs between Boxing Day, 26th December and New Year’s Day 1st January.
Hogmanay Celebration Edinburgh, Scotland December 30-31
How do you celebrate Hogmanay in Edinburgh?
During the day, participants clean their houses in preparation for a clean start to the New Year. At night, however, it’s all about the parties and being together. It’s not uncommon for locals to allow strangers into their homes to enjoy a meal or to see individuals walking down the street carrying a torch to ward off evil spirits. The Torchlight Procession (family friendly) will ignite Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations on December 30. Participants will collect their torches from three locations around the city: Waverley Bridge, West Parliament Square or Bristo Square and will then start the Procession on the Royal Mile between North Bridge and St Mary’s Street. Scottish Music Programme runs from December 30-31 at at Greyfriars Kirk. Performances include Scottish singers and one of Scotland’s most skilled and imaginative contemporary folk acts. Party at the Bells December 31 from 10pm-1am – the world-famous Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party.
This Scottish festival gets its roots from pagan celebrations that warded off evil spirits. Today, it’s a much more family-friendly festival with fireworks and parades. Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and refers to the celebration of the new year. So it’s the Scottish version of a New Year’s Eve. While the precise origins of Hogmanay remain obscured in history, this Scottish New Year’s Eve tradition likely has ancient roots in Norse and Gaelic winter solstice festivals marking the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun. Regional customs abound, but hospitality reigns supreme as locals open their doors to friends and strangers on December 31st. According to age-old superstitions, a tall, dark-haired guest bearing gifts guarantees the greatest fortune for the household in the coming year. So competition runs high to welcome this symbolic “first-foot” over the threshold just after midnight. Other practices include bonfires, torchlit parades, blessing the house with burning juniper, and ritually cleansing the home of misfortune from the previous year before celebrating new beginnings with music and merriment until daybreak and beyond.
Al Dhafra Festival Abu Dhabi, UAE October 28 to January 31
The Al Dhafra Festival is a major cultural event held annually in the desert of the Liwa Oasis near Madinat Zayed in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This festival brings alive the animal husbandry, culture, and community that has defined Bedouin life for generations. At the heart of the festival are the Mazayna (competition) – a celebration of these animals. Al Dhafra attracts tens of thousands of highly-valued pedigree camels accompanied by their owners and handlers converging to take part in this competition showcasing ideal camel conformation. This camel beauty contest has camels from across the Arabian Peninsula and focuses on purebred camels from the Asayel (pedigree) and Majaheem (dark-skinned) lineages. The festival is held in Madinat Zayed, the largest town in the Liwa Oasis. The Dhafra Festival will be held from late October to January 31.
Also, hundreds of men and women from tribes located across many regions come to the festival to exhibit and compete in events, including camel and purebred Arabian horse racing, Arabian 2,500-metre Saluki dog races, Falcon, Arabian Saluki and Goat Beauty Contest, falconry competition and Emirati handicrafts such as khoos, the weaving of palm fronds, and talli (a form of delicate embroidery). There is also a sheep beauty contest, camel milking competition, palm date competition, date packaging competition, and daily traditional Emirati performances. Equally important are celebrations of age-old Emirati culture with handicraft competitions like embroidery, basket-weaving, and date packaging. Dance troupes in flowing robes perform cultural dances. Contests for the most ideal falcons and Arabian thoroughbreds also occur. Visitors can experience traditional camel soup meals and music under starlit desert skies at night. For locals and international tourists, Al Dhafra provides a one-of-a-kind window into enduring heritage still thriving in Abu Dhabi amidst rapid modernization.
Sugar Mas Saint Kitts and Nevis November-December
What is Sugar Mas St Kitts?
The vibrant Carnival celebration, Sugar Mas, envelops the twin Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis in festive abandon for over a month. This cultural showcase traces back to 1957 when local officials proposed an event honoring the sugar industry that long fueled the economy. Today, Sugar Mas ranks among the most elaborate Carnivals in the region, drawing devotees from across the globe. Months of preparation go into the glitzy competitions and elaborate costumes showcased by local groups and individuals during the non-stop revelry. By day, the streets explode with color and sound during lively parades like the J’ouvert jump-up featuring calypso rhythms. At night, revelers don eye-catching ensembles with towering headdresses to vie for the coveted title of Carnival King or Queen. In between, parties rage on while street food vendors keep energy levels high. For locals and visitors, Sugar Mas represents St. Kitts and Nevis culture at its most vibrant and welcoming. It takes place over the period between Christmas and the New Year. The last day of the Carnival takes place on January 2nd, the public holiday. Carnival Day in Saint Kitts and Nevis. Many beauty and talent pageants take place, as well as calypso music.
Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, Harbin China
What happens in the Harbin Ice Festival?
It is an ice and snow festival where ice is carved from the frozen river surface, and workers construct immense castles, slides, and sculptures, including towering snow Buddhas or mythical beasts that defy the imagination in their intricate details. At night, rainbow-hued lights illuminate the icy architecture while visitors gasp and gawk, bundling from exhibit to exhibit, snapping photos and admiring craftsmanship honed over generations. Ice bars pour cocktails beside frozen thrones and grand ballrooms carved out elaborately like enchanted caves.
As Siberian winds send temperatures plunging well below freezing, the city of Harbin in China’s far northeastern Heilongjiang province erupts in a glittering spectacle unlike any other. Artisans harness the frigid climate to transform the Songhua River and the surrounding landscape into a magician’s crystal palace. A winter wonderland like no other springs forth amid subzero temperatures in the northern Chinese city of Harbin as visitors bundle in parkas and rush eagerly toward glittering structures that appear carved out of air. Towering castles, fairytale forests, immense slides, and even entire buildings meticulously sculpted from solid blocks of ice gleam under colorful lights, intensifying the magical mood. Snaking queues form from dawn till midnight for a peek inside elaborately decorated ice galleries exhibiting crystalline stalagmites, frozen thrones, and sweeping staircases leading nowhere. Reverberating echoes of delight mix with camera shutters snapping incessantly to capture oversized snowmen and new record-breaking ice buildings rising over three stories tall. Between activities like ice golf and kayaking down the frozen Songhua River under moonlit skies, warmth and tasty foods like Zhajiang noodles await in log cabins boasting roaring fires. As the sun sinks below the frozen horizon, nightly shows turn this winter playground into an even more dazzling spectacle, with lasers animating the icy architecture.
Burning of the Devil Festival, La Antigua, Guatemala
How is the burning of the devil celebrated in Guatemala?
Guatemalans build bonfires to burn effigies of the devil. On December 7th, Guatemala’s former capital city of La Antigua glows with ominous bonfires and exploding firecrackers. Locals gather to participate in the annual spiritual cleansing ritual, La Quema del Diablo, or Burning of the Devil. Through the historic streets, a costumed crowd follows a procession of dancers bearing giant devil effigies built of cardboard and paper-mâché sitting atop piles of fireworks. These flaming sculptures are set alight by the central plaza, their infernos purging away negativity and misdeeds accumulated over the past year in billowing clouds of acrid smoke.
The usually peaceful La Antigua in Guatemala erupts in anticipation and fiery explosions as December dawns under starry skies. Smells of gunpowder and incense fill the chilled mountain air as crowds weave excitedly through Spanish Colonial streets bearing immense devil sculptures, rockets, and spiked evergreens called burning trees. As evening falls, a procession led by torchbearers sets the towering effigies of malevolence ablaze, raging flames purging negativity away in billowing black smoke. Inhabitants watch with glee under glittering holiday lights as fireworks and booming blasts reverberate while orchestras strike up festive songs. The annual ritual cleansing draws masses home to feast on tamales in exchange for blessings before turning their gaze towards hopes renewed for family, fortune and redemption in the coming year.
The winter holiday season offers limitless opportunities for festive fun, wherever your journeys take you. As we bid this year adieu, be sure to make some magical memories doing something delightfully different. Best of wanderlust and seasonal cheer to all!
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