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Christmas in Spain, Italy, France, Portugal and Greece

Some people can’t get enough of the traditional British Christmas, with the familiar treats of Christmas TV, last year’s Cherry Brandy and drizzle. But many people prefer to take advantage of the extended holiday shutdown to travel to foreign climes and plunge into a very different kind of Yuletide.

It’s the perfect time to experience in a new light the places you usually visit in sweltering heat with flip-flops and sun cream. Some of the most popular destinations for Britons abroad, such as Spain, France, Portugal and Greece, are transformed into magical places with a rich, inviting winter character. While the UK shuts from Christmas Eve until January 2nd, why not celebrate in style with our European neighbours?

France is a mere 23 miles away and for centuries we’ve been rivals and friends. Christmas dinner in France is not unlike our own turkey feast but it’s traditional to eat it on Christmas Eve. There’s an array of aperitifs and appetisers before the main course of turkey, guinea fowl or pheasant. Instead of our beloved figgy pudding, you’ll find huge cheese platters and a rich chocolate yule log for dessert.

After dinner you can experience a glorious, atmospheric midnight mass. Throughout the season all the paraphernalia of the nativity is present but the French Christmas markets have to be seen to be believed. There are seven in Strasbourg alone.

Christmas in France ends with Three Kings’ Day, marked with the flaky pastry King Cake, if you aren’t already over-full by 6th January.

Like the French, the Spanish eat on Christmas Eve but the season begins in November with the opening of the Christmas markets and continues through traditions including the Christmas lottery, endless feasts, delicious Christmas sweets, elaborate nativity recreations, their own December version of April Fools’ Day and of course Midnight Mass. If you want to celebrate like a true Spaniard, forget Father Christmas because it’s the three wise men who being the presents, and not until 6th January.

Although they are Spain’s neighbours on the Iberian Peninsula, the Portuguese have developed some very different practices – for example, the Christmas Eve meal is salted cod, followed by shellfish and other meats. After dinner, visit the church for the Mass of the Rooster or marvel at the huge celebratory bonfire of the Christmas Madeiro.

Italy’s Christmas celebrations cover a whole month from 8th December to January 6th. There is no meat in the Christmas Eve dinner, just fish, vegetables and of course pasta. You might be surprised to hear bagpipes being played in the town squares and see presents from the Good Witch on the final day of festivities.

Greece has its own alternative to Santa: Basil the Great. The Greeks share the Christmas day dinner tradition with the Brits but delay their present giving until 6th January. Sant Nick does get a look in, commemorated as the patron saint of sailors by elaborately decorated boats.

Taking your Christmas abroad needn’t break the bank. We offer a wide range of budget friendly breaks, for group holidays in somewhere like Italy’s beautiful Toscana holiday village, or family getaways in a luxury mobile home or caravan. Dare to be different – try the European experience once and you’ll be hooked for life.

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