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25 Alternative Christmas Holidays for Women
If family, turkey and tree are not alternatives

Alternative Christmas holidays - or different ways of spending this time of year - are made for those of you whose emotions go into tailspin when 25 December rolls around (especially if you come from a culture that celebrates Christmas).

That may happen for many reasons... you don't have family, it's far away, you don't care, or perhaps you hate the commercial side of Christmas. 

Famous Steiff Bears

Christmas has become a time to buy, buy, buy 

Whatever the reason, a traditional tree/turkey/prezzies combo simply isn't going to do it for you, because you don't want it or can't have it.

I have wonderful memories of Christmases spent with my parents, who are no longer alive, and reliving that scene opens up a yearning I don't really want to re-experience. Other than my partner, my remaining family is across an ocean and it's not always possible to get together.

So I turn Christmas into something fun but different. I try to image how the non-turkey brigade spends the holidays and ask myself, what would you do for Christmas if you could?

And usually, it doesn't involve turkey.

25 Less Usual or Alternative Holiday Ideas around Christmas 

1. Go to the airport a few days before. Look at the crowds. Be grateful you're not going anywhere. That woman asleep on her suitcase with her purse gripped in her hand could be YOU.

2. If you're up for travel, why not change hemispheres? If you're from the North, a BBQ on the beach in December should shake your cobwebs. And if you're from the South, head North and discover the real meaning of SNOW. Unless you're from Chile, Argentina or New Zealand...

Gruyeres, Switzerland

If you're not used to a snowy December, wouldn't you want to try this - at least once? The lovely Swiss village of Gruyeres in winter

3. If you're staying home, try cooking something unexpected and not Christmassy. A summer cocktail? Handcrafted fruit salad? Caviar and foie gras (not together, please)? Go on, run wild.

4. Find a wonderful travel blog you've been meaning to sink yourself into. Read the whole thing from start to finish. Search online for 'best travel blogs' or check out these top women's travel blogs - I've already done a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

5. Update your address book by sending out your own e-greeting cards. Haven't made any before? Check out simple services like Blue Mountain. Going through your address book will make you ask yourself, How badly to I want to keep that person on my contact list?

6. Do something over the top luxurious. Just for yourself. Just for one night. It will cost you but it will be a night to remember. That three-star Michelin restaurant has your name all over it. So does that plush bed at the Ritz, you know, the one with the liveried doorman and wrought iron Art Nouveau elevator? Pssst. You can do something naughty. Or forbidden. Just this once. 

Hotel de l'Etoile in Charmey, Switzerland
Wine Cellar at Georges Blanc

Top: a perfect risotto at the Hotel de l'Etoile in Charmey, Switzerland; below, the wine cellar of the Michelin-starred Georges Blanc restaurant 

7. Find out about your family roots: make this time Genealogy Time. Lock yourself up with your computer and go online. Travel to your ancestral home to research your origins.

8. Catch up with nature. How long has it been since you've spent a bit of time with animals (and I don't mean your pet). Go to an ethical zoo. Visit the botanical gardens or a bird conservatory. Better yet, take a trip and discover wildlife. I recently did just that in Sabah, on the island of Borneo.

Sunset over South China Sea

And while you're in Borneo, enjoy what I'd call a perfect Christmas view: sunset over the South China Sea 

9. Decide to stay home. I cringe when I even type that horrible word, 'staycation', but exploring your own backyard has a lot going for it. I've been doing that all year here in my own Rhone-Alpes region in Eastern France and I never realized how much there was right on my doorstep.

Megeve at Night in Winter

There's something about tramping through the snow in an Alpine village, Megeve in this case, only about an hour from me 

10. Do something ridiculously banal, like change your Facebook header. Or your Twitter profile. Add a board on Pinterest. It's a sneaky way to get back into social media, where you may well find other women who feel just like you do about the holiday season.

11. Make your New Year's Resolutions. I know, you're a week early, but that's the idea, remember? Turning Christmas on its head. Who knows, by 1 January you may be pining for that turkey.

12. Not that this is for everyone, mind you, but if you're looking for something memorable and different (and happen to be an utter masochist) why not go ice swimming? The faint of heart can try plain old winter swimming - none of this is hard to find in North America or Northern Europe. Enjoy! And then write and tell me about it so I can live vicariously.

13. Think of others. Volunteer. This is something you can do anywhere, with a local charity in your town or city, or abroad - there isn't a country out there without some kind of non-governmental organization (well, North Korea perhaps). You even do that on your doorstep and offer a drive home to friends who have had too much to drink.

14. What about a silent retreat for ten days in Thailand? A friend of mine tried the highly-regarded Suan Mok monastery and came back raving (or maybe she was just thrilled at being able to talk again). No matter. Most everyone who has stayed here comes back changed. Yes, for the better. But I don't think it's for the meek.

15. Pick a glorious, amazing, stunning, incredible, magnificent or sublime natural site - and go there. You can start with this list of World Heritage Sites but just because something isn't on the list doesn't mean it isn't worth a bunch of stars.

16. Why don't you rent a villa in Tuscany for the holidays? I mean Tuscany... natural beauty, sunshine, food and wine... You could take a cooking class while you're there. Sigh. Or any class. Spruce up your Italian, and put it to good use when you discuss the price of leather bags.

17. Watch an oldie but goodie: Christmas is a great time for classics and I love the thought of curling up in front of a fire and watching Casablanca, Singing in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz. And if you want your movie Christmassy, then it's a toss-up between Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Carol (and of course, Heidi). More into TV than movies? Time to feel nostalgic and pull out those final seasons of Law & Order or Boston Law you inherited last year.

18. Why not visit the real Santa in Lapland? You could see the Northern Lights while you're at it, go snowshoeing and dogsledding, and do a lot of sitting around with a warm cup in your hand. And while you're in northern Europe, why not drop into some of its fabled Christmas markets? Not to buy anything, mind you, just to feel the buzz.

Christmas Market Santa
Christmas Decorations

Top: Santa in all his finery. Below, visions of a German Christmas market

19. While we're on the theme of cold and winter, Iceland and Greenland come to mind. If you're going to do winter, why not go to the extreme? Both countries welcome visitors in December and have plenty of special deals for those who brave the weather. There's always Alaska and Northern Canada if you're feeling adventurous...

Dogsled Race in Megeve

This could be you, in winter

20. Take a winter driving class. Admit it, you're brave and courageous but when that ice gets slick your stomach whips straight to your toes. There's nothing like learning a controlled skid (or learning to avoid one altogether) to give you confidence when hell freezes over.

21. Have a party with new friends if you're away. I spent many Christmasses on the road and a memorable one involved people I'd met in a hostel lobby, making plans to meet up a couple of weeks later, and a party on Zanzibar, all with people I barely knew. And what a party it was!

22. Have a gratitude day. Remember you're lucky enough to have a choice. You can decide not to eat turkey. But you can also change your mind. Millions of people around the world would envy you that choice. I love writing out gratitude lists: it reminds me how utterly wonderful life really is, even when it isn't. Top it up with a few philosophical readings from Brain Pickings.

Stars in Christmas Market

23. Pamper yourself. Spend the week in a spa getting pummelled and taking off the weight while everyone else is putting it on. Or go for an ayurvedic treatment (I've got plans for this one) and detoxify. The new you may be just around the corner. Or the same old you, but healthier.

Jari Jari Spa in Sabah

If I close my eyes I can remember the tropical scents and feel the foot massage about to happen at the Jari Jari spa in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

24. Do something with your hands. Be honest - how often do you do that (outside of washing dishes and hitting the keyboard, I mean)? Get the scissors and construction paper out and make your own cards. Strip an antique chair and polish it. Paint an intricate design on an old cupboard. Make a teddy bear. Or make a snow cat if you have snow. Pull out stray bits of Lego, toothpicks, matches, puzzles, knitting, origami - and focus. If you're on the road, go to the market and find a woman who is making things - show interest and she might teach you how it's done. It's better than meditation.

Snow Cat Statue

Yup - snow cat

25. Delve into Atlas Obscura and enjoy a virtual visit to the 'world's wondrous and curious places'. A little odd, a little different, but always amazing. It'll make you forget all about Christmas.

Oh yes - I'm cheating a little because this is number 26... but you could face it head on and Skype home, tell loved ones you, well, love them, and if you just can't do that for whatever reason, then cut your losses, ignore Christmas altogether and just walk away.

It, too, will pass.

Photographs by Anne Sterck