Theft, karaoke and homesickness: our Christmas travel memories

Christmas is often a time for memories – creating new ones or remembering the old.

As the Travel stuff The team are having another holiday season in New Zealand, we take a look at these international holidays and traditions of the most wonderful time of year.

The “Julehuset” in Bergen, Norway is a year-round Christmas shop selling Norwegian festive decorations and souvenirs.


The “Julehuset” in Bergen, Norway is a year-round Christmas shop selling Norwegian festive decorations and souvenirs.

* Norway will not send a new makeover Christmas tree to Trafalgar Square in London
* The unofficial rules for flying on Christmas Day

Trupti Biradar, travel editor

For me, it’s not Christmas without snow, without stollen and without sausages. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a single Christmas memory of my time in Germany, although I was born there and only speak German when we moved to New Zealand to the age of five. Maybe it’s because there is something comfortable and familiar about these scents.

So when I returned to Germany more than three decades after leaving, it was in a small town on the Rhine that I first felt a strange nostalgia. The air was cool as we walked down the Drosselgasse. The cobbled lane was tiny, barely 3m wide and 144m long, but before Covid it attracted over 3 million tourists a year – the dangers of being a cruise stopover.

Rudesheim coffee is made with Asbach Uralt brandy and lumps of sugar, with added coffee, cream, vanilla and chocolate flakes.


Rudesheim coffee is made with Asbach Uralt brandy and lumps of sugar, with added coffee, cream, vanilla and chocolate flakes.

The unmistakable scent of freshly baked goods drew us to store # 5 for a Baumstriezel (pastry). Here we came across the ritual of serving Rudesheim Kaffee. A good sip of Asbach Uralt, a German brandy, and three sugar cubes are poured into a mug by our deliciously brusque waiter.

It is turned on and stirred for about a minute, until the sugar dissolves. Strong black coffee is added, followed by loads of whipped cream, vanilla sugar, and dark chocolate. Serve with a Baumstriezel covered in cinnamon sugar – a sweet donut-like pastry baked on a rotating spit.

The best word to describe how I felt is Gemutlichkeit. It’s one of those great German words that is practically untranslatable, but roughly means “cozy, cheerful and comfortable”.

Juliette Sivertsen, Director of Tourism News

In Norwegian mythology, a nisse is a domestic spirit often portrayed as a gnome-like figure, with a large red hat, protecting a family from evil and helping to increase the prosperity of the farm.

A word of warning – nissen can be tricky if not treated properly or ignored, and can cause all kinds of harm and havoc. However, his bad moods can be avoided if you leave a bowl of porridge outside on Christmas Eve to satisfy him.

It is said that a


It is said that a “nisse” is a Norwegian domestic spirit, often depicted with a large red hat, who likes a bowl of porridge left out on Christmas Eve.

Norwegian traditions dot my Christmases, thanks to my Scandinavian heritage. Not only is a carrot left out for Rudolph, Christmas tarts and brandy for the Big Man himself, but also a bowl of oats, for Nissen.

In the city of Bergen there is a Christmas shop all year round, Juléhuset, which sells festive decorations, lights, Norwegian souvenirs and of course lots of little nisse figurines. Whatever the month of the year, it is impossible not to feel the joy and festivity inside this little shop.

My dad has a little army of lovely little nisse decorations that are all lined up around the house at Christmas. I hope that in 2022 I will have the chance to add another one to his collection.

Siobhan Downes, Senior Travel Journalist

When you’re in a relationship with someone from the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year, you often find yourself trying to build enthusiasm for the concept of Christmas in the summer.

“It’s just not a real Christmas,” laments my Irish partner.

I have to admit that since we visited Finland in December 2018, I have had a harder time defending our sunny southern hemisphere traditions.

We only spent three nights in Helsinki on our way to Ireland, but that was enough for me to be totally delighted. The snow, the twinkling lights in the dark of the day, the cozy little bars serving hot and spicy ‘glögi’, the Finnish version of mulled wine.

Siobhan Downes in Helsinki, December 2018.

Siobhan Downes / Stuff

Siobhan Downes in Helsinki, December 2018.

I experienced my first real Christmas market, against the impressive cathedral in Senate Square. We booed and admired the handmade ornaments, tasted elk sausages, and indulged in some more glögi.

We arrived in Dublin in time for Christmas Eve, joining the last minute shoppers crowd on Grafton Street, before strolling the cobbled streets of Temple Bar, its famous pubs covered in Christmas decorations.

That evening, it was my turn to make the obligatory Skype call, as my family, 13 hours into the future, were sitting down for Christmas lunch in shorts and a t-shirt, while I was sitting down for Christmas lunch. sat on the couch in my woolen socks with a mug. of tea and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

The curmudgeon that is the Covid-19 has put an end to future vacations in the northern hemisphere. Of course, once the borders reopen, my partner will be eager to even the score. And while I love our pōhutukawa and pavlova, I even dream of a white Christmas for next year.

Stephen Heard, Travel Publishing Coordinator

We had spent weeks googling what was going on at a Christmas wedding in Vietnam. Karaoke, fireworks, ice cold beer and spectacular traditional outfits are just a few of the finds to look forward to.

Twelve of us quickly settled into a villa just outside Ho Chi Minh City, but instead of wrapping gifts and dreaming of bacon-wrapped sausages, we listened to Cousin Fraser announce that the next day , some of us would be required as groomsmen for his wedding in a banana plantation.

Sailing through Vietnam’s largest city was already overwhelming enough for some of our party, especially those who had traded in the festive traditions of the Northern Hemisphere for 100% humidity. Then Fraser revealed more about our last minute responsibility.

Stephen Heard (center) in Vietnam for a Christmas wedding.


Stephen Heard (center) in Vietnam for a Christmas wedding.

We would be required to complete a challenge set by the bride’s family. If we refused or didn’t finish him, he wouldn’t be allowed to see his wife. Asked about previous ceremonies, Fraser mentioned something about an egg and spoon race.

We walked to the farm sweating through formal wear and carrying fantastic dowry platters. The master of ceremonies appeared with a tray lined with green limes. We had to chew and swallow a whole lime each. After a few faces and a lot of laughter from the spectators, the ice was officially broken between our new extended families.

This year, I’m looking forward to the sausages.

Alan Granville, travel journalist

The table was absolutely raised. I mean all kinds of meats, salads and desserts were there. The barbecue was blazing, new and old friends mingled. I had been welcomed into this family as one of their own and yet, despite the joy that emanated from it, I sank into sadness.

It was 1998 and it was my very first Christmas in the southern hemisphere. I was in Perth, Western Australia with the exceptionally welcoming Maltese family of my then boyfriend. But being so far from home in Ireland, I was disconnected, and it showed. I had to leave early, because of the protests, but I didn’t want my sadness to overshadow their big day.

Pohutukawa trees are the icon of a Christmas Kiwi.


Pohutukawa trees are the icon of a Christmas Kiwi.

After coming to New Zealand in 2004, via a few years in the UK, I’m dealing with a distant holiday season much better now. Love the laid back nature of Christmas Kiwi, the splash in the waves, the beach vibe. My group of friends includes many “orphan” expats from all over the world, all far from our families, but linked by our commonalities.

I miss Irish Christmas, but until then the festive frivolities of New Zealand suit me just fine.

Lorna Thornber, travel journalist

I knew it wouldn’t be a typical Christmas, but when my fellow travelers and I sat down in front of a large plate of fries drowned in melted cheese, I wondered if I would have been better off staying home and to order a Walmart turkey dinner for one.

Living in San Francisco at the time, I had banded together with a group of other recent arrivals to the city to celebrate the holiday season in Los Angeles.

Lorna Thornber (fourth from left) in her LA Airbnb before Christmas dinner of loaded fries.

Supplied / Supplied

Lorna Thornber (fourth from left) in her LA Airbnb before Christmas dinner of loaded fries.

Sharing an Airbnb in Hollywood, we followed the stars along the cobblestones of its famous boulevard to one of the few open spots: the disco ball-lit diner specializing in the aforementioned loaded fries, which we doused with a few laps. of two – cocktails for one. Energized by the unholy number of calories we had consumed, we went to a nearby club, delighted to find that not all of the famous waiters / actors in town are coming home for the holidays.

We cleared our heads the next morning with a hike to the Hollywood sign and joined the crowd gathered around a soul singer on Santa Monica State Beach who I hope has now signed a recording deal before to enjoy a Korean barbecue dinner on Boxing Day. All of my Christmases came at once when we pulled up next to Ashton Kutcher in the Beverly Hills Lights and he gave us a half smile.

Back in New Zealand I’m going to have a typical turkey Christmas dinner this year, everything is going well, but there is a part of me that craves a big plate of loaded festive fries. Traditions are good, but sometimes breaking them is at least as much fun.

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