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Festivals + Events

The World’s Coolest Holiday Celebrations

If you’re not home for the holidays, be sure to check out these fun cultural celebrations and traditions, from Hogmanay in Scotland to hygge in Copenhagen.

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Hygge in Copenhagen, Denmark

Christmas in Copenhagen is marked by all things hygge—that is, cozy, warm, and inviting (picture: pubs glowing with candlelight). To experience it for yourself, spend a day exploring the twinkling Christmas markets. These tiny wooden structures spring up across the squares, and most notably in Tivoli Gardens, selling everything from metal model airplanes to cheese and artfully shaped chocolates, which pair perfectly with some hot gløgg (mulled wine) and a bratwurst.

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New Year’s in Sydney, Australia

Sick of freezing in the chilly winter temps? Head down under and be among the first to ring in the new year in Sydney. A spectacular display of more than 80,000 fireworks light the sky over the city’s harbor and landmark Opera House. Watch them on a boat in the harbor, at a bonfire party on the city’s beaches, or head over to Cockatoo Island for the night (intrepid campers can book a site in advance).

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Photo by Garry Knight

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Hanukkah in London, England

Trafalgar Square, with its very own menorah, is the place to be in a city that’s as large and diverse as London. The free, family-centered celebration features lots of music—think youth choirs and acapella—and delicious food. Salt beef bagels? Check. (Free) doughnuts? Definitely. Also, keep an eye on events at the Jewish Museum in Camden—and don’t miss a trip to Golders Green station, where a rabbi lights the city’s tallest menorah each night. For those looking for a more modern celebration, the JW3 Jewish cultural center on Finchley Road usually hosts an ice rink silent disco (complete with wine, of course).

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Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Scotland

If there’s one holiday to travel for, it’s the three-day Hogmanay, or New Year’s, celebration in Scotland’s capital. In the evening, a torchlit procession of bagpipers and drummers parades from the castle perched atop Parliament Square down to Carlton Hill, the burial site of some of the city’s most famous luminaries, as fireworks explode over the landmark. On New Year’s Eve, people party in the streets, drinking drams of whisky and partaking in the ceilidh, a traditional Scottish dance. Don’t worry, the locals will be only too happy to show you the steps.

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Christmas in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Head south to Puerto Rico, where the festivities stretch from early December to Three Kings Day, the season’s final party in January. First stop: the beautiful decorations at City Hall and Paseo de la Princesa in Old Town. Then, swap carols for parrandas (more dance party than singing) and eggnog for coquito, a rum-and-coconut holiday drink. Also be sure to try pasteles, meat-and-spice-filled pastries as well as the traditional Christmas treat: a spit-roasted pig.

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Hanukkah in Rome, Italy

Rome is usually associated with Catholicism, but that doesn’t mean Hanukkah isn’t celebrated—particularly in the Jewish Quarter of the ancient city. Located near the Capo dei Fiori, the Ghetto (as it’s known), is a great place to take in the menorahs shining from windows, grab some fried artichokes and latkes, and soak up the festive atmosphere. Every night, a crowd gathers in the Piazza Barberini for the lighting of the 20-foot menorah—and toward the end of the eight-day holiday, there’s a big celebration in the piazza with food, dancing, and free-flowing vino (this is Italy after all!).

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