Not another year of scrambling for gifts on Oxford Street and Scrabbling for triple word scores against Gran! Guest poster, Andrew Matthews, has a stocking full of ideas on how to do Xmas differently this year…

I have to admit I’m more than a little excited about Christmas this year. Apparently it’s almost guaranteed I’ll go to bed on the 24th December and wake up in 1843. And the best bit? It’s not nasty 1843 with the workhouses, poverty and disease. It’s 1843 straight from the big cupboard of hat-doffing gentlefolk, merry urchins and small, kindly children who make Francis of Assisi look like the saint of self-interest.

credit: Ronald Rugenbrink

I can’t wait to leap from my feather bed wearing a flannel nightshirt and a jaunty stocking cap, throw open the shutters (of course I have shutters, it’s 1843) to greet my fellow man with hearty and largely incomprehensible shouts of seasonal bonhomie. And all this even before I head downstairs to my own personal Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree, mountain of expertly wrapped gifts and ‘best ever’ festive feast.

Okay, call me cynical, but in the back of my mind lurks the image of evil advertising elves toiling relentlessly to convince us that this year will be the year all our Christmas wishes come true. So since that’s a big, fat lie and it’s probably not going to be fantasy 1843 after all, here are a few alternatives I found lying around somewhere between Scrooge and Kris Kringle.

Christmas Markets That Make The Cut

Salzburg Christkindlmarkt. Image by A. Currel

Graceful, historic, traditional and snowy in winter, Salzburg at Christmas would make the most hard-hearted ad elves weep with envy. It’s Mozart’s home town, charmingly Austrian with a hint of Bavarian right on the border, surrounded by mountains (the very ones that were alive in The Sound of Music) and birthplace of Austria’s oldest and most romantic Christmas market, Christkindlmarkt. This is the market that every other market wants to be and it’s definitely on the Kris Kringle side of my fantasy list this year. There are Gospel Choirs, stalls selling stuff you actually want to buy (no craft fair pity-purchases here), gingerbread you can smell for miles, excellent Austrian coffee and lots and lots of unfeasibly white, crisp, crunchy snow to stomp around in and feel thoroughly festive and 15th century – see your Dickensian 1843 and raise you. Christkindlmarkt runs from November 27th to December 26th in Salzburg’s Cathedral Square and Residence Square. www.christkindlmarkt.co.at.

Edinburgh Christmas Fair. Image by chrisdonia

Chances of snow in Edinburgh are slimmer than in Salzburg but if you want to flip the Christmas Market tradition, visit Edinburgh Ethical Christmas Fair on Castle Street from December 7th to 15th. Eco, Fair-Trade and Organic everything from socks and shoes to mulled beer – anyone who’s ever done ‘T in the Park’ will tell you the bacon sandwiches alone are worth an ethical shopping trip to Edinburgh this Christmas. www.craftscotland.org.

Forty Foot Of Freezing Festive Fear

Serpentine Swimming Club in Hyde Park. Image credit: Reuters

There’s nothing new about swimming on Christmas Day. The Hyde Park Swimming Club brave The Serpentine every year on the 25th of December armed with just their swimmies and a faint air of superiority. You can go along and watch if you want. That’s right, you can spend Christmas Day watching complete strangers swim or you may – like me – prefer to consider eating your own foot. Because if Christmas is going to involve a body of freezing water I want to at least have a fighting chance of flailing around in it – and they don’t let you do that in Hyde Park, in case you die or something.

‘The Forty Foot’ just outside Dublin. Image by Conor McCabe Photography

No such softy considerations for hardy Dubliners, however. The Forty Foot ‘swimming pool’ at Dun Laoghaire just outside Dublin is famous for deep, clear and icy waters, a mention in Ulysses and the all-welcome, all-day Annual Christmas Swim. Not strictly a swimming pool, The Forty Foot leans more to the beautiful open sea with sheltering ‘jump off me please’ rocks, a changing area and a very friendly attitude. So if you really want to earn your Christmas dinner this year you know where to go. www.outdoorswimming.ie/Co/Dublin/40_foot.html

Two Feet for London Time Travel

Dickensian Walk of London on Christmas Day

If you’re in London on Christmas Day and can’t let go of the Merry Old England fantasy completely, take a guided walk in the footsteps of Pepys or Dickens for a few hours. Tours start at 11am for Pepys and 2pm for Dickens, all time travellers should meet at the Big Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square and there’s even the promise of a pub visit (a tour that can guide you to an open London pub on Christmas day has got to be worth thinking about). www.walks.com/Standalone/London_Walks_Calendar/default.aspx

St. Paul’s Cathedral & Millennium Bridge. Image by Michela Simoncini

Alternatively, you might like a closer look at the big city’s bright lights with architect Ike Ijeh from 7th to 30th December. Tours take 2 hours, start from Trafalgar Square and are booked by email info@londonarchitecturewalks.com

Midnight in Paris

Midnight Mass at Sacré Coeur. Image by Zoriah

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at La Basilique du Sacré Coeur in Montmartre is one of those unforgettable life experiences. The cathedral’s candlelit and the ceremony begins with an Organ Recital at 10pm followed by the Christmas Vigil and Midnight Mass. Then you get to walk home through the streets of Paris on Christmas morning and rumour has it there’s almost certainly going to be snow this year.

And Edinburgh’s Not Just For Christmas

Edinburgh Hogmanay. Image credit: edinburghshogmanay

Alternative spelling but traditional right down to the kilts, pipes and professional ceilidh caller, The Keilidh on New Year’s Eve is the UK’s largest and always sells out – so this is advance notice even though it’s not strictly Christmas. Drink, food, an immense dancefloor (you need plenty of room for those reels), one of the best views of Edinburgh’s spectacular New Year fireworks display and all outdoors as part of the insanely popular annual Hogmanay Street Party. www.edinburghhogmanay.com.

Ebenezer or Kris? Edinburgh or Austria? Spectating or Swimming? Well, even if I don’t wake up in 1843 this Christmas, I’m still feeling more than a little bit excited by some of the alternatives. Have a good one whatever you get up to!

This post was written for Urban Travel Blog by Andrew Matthews, resident travel pundit for holiday rental experts HouseTrip.com. If you enjoyed this only mildly scrooge-esque lens through which to view that most Hallmark of festive seasons, maybe you should check out some of his other posts on Urban Travel Blog, including Free Travel Experiences Around The World and his take on some of the best city views in existence.

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