If you're tired of turkey, mince pies and endless present wrapping, don't worry – here are some alternative winter breaks for those feeling like a bit of a Scrooge this Christmas.
Celebrate Hanukkah in Israel
Sunset over Jerusalem Old City © SJ Travel Photo and Video, Shutterstock
Join the Jewish festival of light over an eight-day celebration, which commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid rulers of Jerusalem. Be sure to get involved in the Torch Relay, where a burning torch is passed by person to person through the streets of Modi’in to the Western wall in Jerusalem to light a giant chanukiah.
Watch the sunrise at Stonehenge
Stonehenge at sunrise © Simon Wakefield, Wikimedia
Join druids, pagans and curious onlookers to see sunrise from the inside Stonehenge’s ring for the shortest day of the year (21 December).
Witness Swaziland’s most important festival – Incwala
Incwala is Swaziland's premier cultural event © Courtesy of Swaziland Tourist Board
This is Swaziland’s most important cultural event. It has a spiritual power that is largely lost on outsiders, and indeed many of its inner workings remain shrouded in secrecy. Although often translated as ‘first fruits festival’, the tasting of the first of the season’s bounty is only one part of this long rite. Essentially this is about cleansing and renewal, and – above all – celebrating kingship. Indeed, when there is no king there is no Incwala. The main event takes place on the fourth day after the full moon nearest 21 December (the longest day) – so between late December and early January. Every Swazi may take part in the public parts of the Incwala. Spectators are permitted but you may not take photographs except by special permit. The best day to attend is day four of the Big Incwala, when the feasting and dancing reach a climax, and you will see thousands of people – including warriors in full battle regalia – thronging the royal parade grounds.
Experience the true dark of night in Svalbard
The polar night in Svalbard is something to behold © PaterMcFly, Wikimedia Commons
The really special polar nights (eg: when it is true night around the clock) that occur only in the far north of Svalbard can be experienced from mid December to the beginning of January. The permanent night around Christmas and New Year’s Eve casts a fascinating spell over the archipelago, followed by the gradual return of the light with often very beautiful faint colours.
Camp in the deserts of Wihibah Sands
The dunes of Wihibah Sands © Oman Ministry of Tourism
The winter months are the best for appreciating the sand dunes and emptiness of the Wihibah, Oman’s own ‘Empty Quarter’, preferably with one of the specialist companies where you can have the full desert camping experience without any of the danger or fear of running out of food and water.
Have a whirl of a time in Konya
The whirling dervishes at Rumi Festival © Schorle, Wikimedia Commons
The Mevlâna Festival celebrates the beloved 13th-century Islamic poet, Mevlana Celaddiin-i Rumi (more popularly known as just Rumi). It runs for two weeks in December every year, ending with the climax of the anniversary of Mevlâna’s death on 17 December, or his ‘wedding night’ with Allah, as Mevlevis think of it. Devotees flood in from all over Turkey and beyond, so tickets and accommodation need to be organised well in advance.
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