With shopping-mall Santas and Yuletide television specials, Christmas can seem like an American invention. But many other holiday traditions thrive around the country, says Travis Katz, CEO and founder of Trip by Skyscanner, a social network site for travelers. “Christmas has been celebrated in many ways for hundreds of years. There are opportunities to go deeper and have a more authentic cultural experience.” He shares some favorite traditional holiday events and enclaves with USA TODAY.
Danish, Solvang, Calif.
Although it’s a long way from Denmark, this Pacific Coast town celebrates its Danish heritage with a monthlong holiday celebration, Julefest. “It’s like stepping back in time to a little village. There are lots of lights and traditional food,” Katz says. The event fieatures ballerinas, candlelight tours and strolling musicians. There’s also a Skål Stroll with local winery and brewery tastings. solvangusa.com
About 500 years ago, Nuremberg, Germany, began what many consider to be the first Christmas market, an outdoor gathering where vendors sell gifts and food associated with the holiday. Chicago picked up on the tradition more than 20 years ago and now hosts one of the largest Christkindl markets in the country, attracting more than a million visitors. “You go and plan to spend the whole day there. You get to eat and drink and shop at the same time,” Katz says. christkindlmarket.com
Dutch, Holland, Mich.
This Lake Michigan town attracts springtime visitors for its tulips, but it’s worth a holiday visit, too. That’s when the city welcomes Dutch WinterFest, which includes Kerstmarkt, an open-air European-style gift and food market. And on Dec. 1, it celebrates Sinterklaas Eve, when St. Nicholas, arrives on a white horse. “This is a very traditional thing in Holland,” Katz says. holland.org
Italian, New York
Visitors can pick up Italian meats, cheeses and pastries for the holidays across the city. Manhattan’s famous Little Italy near Mulberry Street lavishly decorates for the season. And up in the Bronx, the scene is just as festive on Arthur Avenue, says Katz. “It’s a cool place to go. It’s fun to stroll around and get a great New Christmas-y New York feel.” NYCgo.com
English, San Francisco
Victorian England comes to life in San Francisco every year during the Great Dickens Fair, which runs through Dec. 17. Celebrants transform the historic Cow Palace exhibition halls into 19th century London with lamp-lit streets, dance parties, tearooms, and pubs. “You get your shopping done and get entertained and get a taste of Victorian England. It feels more authentic than buying gifts on Amazon,” Katz says. dickensfair.com
Amish, Lancaster, Pa.
With horse-drawn buggies clomping along country roads, Christmas in Pennsylvania Dutch country is a visit to a simpler time. Visitors can eat a Lancaster County breakfast with Santa at Kitchen Kettle Village, or meet Old Country characters such as Belsnickel, a bedraggled, gift-bearing companion of St. Nicholas, at the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum. “They’ve been guarding traditions there for many years,” Katz says. discoverlancaster.com