Visiting presepju, or nativity scenes, is an integral part of Christmas in Malta. Every year, residents proudly open their shutters, and sometimes even their garage doors, to display their holy crib confections to the public.
Inhabited and animated by more than 150 actors, including entire families, the village takes visitors back in time to Judea of 2,000 years ago, complete with oil lamps, turn mills, grazing animals, crafts areas teaching traditional skills and folklore, a tavern and, of course, a grotto housing baby Jesus.
Downtown Valletta is also home to a lively Christmas spirit, with carolers singing outside the Baroque St. John’s Co-Cathedral during Advent, and a dizzying display of Christmas lights on Republic Street.
2. New York
Fashion’s biggest names join in the festivities, setting up impressive Christmas window displays. The most glamorous cases are at the Fifth Avenue flagships and department stores such as Saks and Bergdorf.
3. Bath, England
There are few cities in the world where you can celebrate the birth of Jesus and the birth of Jane Austen with the same amount of fanfare, but Bath, England, happens to be one of them.
4. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona’s Copa Nadal is a 200-meter swimming competition across the harbor on Christmas Day.
David Ramos/Getty Images
On the evening of January 5, they arrive at the city’s port on the Santa Eulalia — their very own ship — in bearded and velvet-robed splendor. Cannons are fired, fireworks are set off, and as the mayor hands them the keys to the city, the magic of the Magi officially commences.
They parade through the streets in a magnificent cavalcade of floats that includes camels, elephants, giraffes and dazzling costumes.
5. Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
CNN’s Richard Quest soaks in the spirit of the Holiday season by heading to one of the most festive places in the world – Santa Claus Village in Finland.
While legends dating as far back as the 1820s cite the North Pole as the official home of Santa Claus and his jolly missus, the Finns would have us believe otherwise.
6. Nuremberg, Germany
Nuremberg’s Christmas Market Council is serious about making sure only traditional handmade toys and holiday goods are sold. No mass-produced plastic garlands here.
The market’s 200 select vendors also put up fantastic displays as they compete for the Most Beautiful Stall Design award. The top three walk away with a gold, silver or bronze “Plum People” awards.
Adults can enjoy Nuremberg spicy gingerbread and mugs of mulled wine. For kids, there’s the Toy Museum, while the German Railway Museum is a hit with everyone.
7. Honolulu, Hawaii
Santa Claus dons his beach wear for the Christmas celebrations in Hawaii. What the Aloha State lacks in snow it more than makes up for in festive vibes of peace and goodwill.
At 6 meters tall (almost 20 feet) Shaka Santa — Mr. Claus dressed down in red shorts and open shirt — takes pride of place downtown, seated next to his mu’umu’u-wearing wife, Tutu Mele.
8. Quebec City, Canada
A haven for environmentally friendly, outdoor enthusiasts, Quebec bustles with winter activity, offering holiday programs for all tastes.
9. Reykjavik, Iceland
Among these, 13 “Yuletide Lads” (scruffy Santas) are said to bring gifts to nice children for the 13 nights leading to Christmas.
Rows of small, beautiful huts make up the Yule Town Christmas market on Ingolfstorg square in downtown Reykjavík. Here, visitors can pick up colorful Christmas gifts, decorations and treats.
The shopping differs day to day as some craftsmen and designers set up stalls for only one day.
10. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Pinatas, posadas and ponche sum up the festivities in this colorful Mexican city, where Christmas is both a solemn and celebratory affair.
Leading up to December 24, visitors are likely to stumble upon Mary and Joseph strolling the streets, as locals make pilgrimages from home to home, singing to “ask for posada” or “beg for shelter” as they re-enact the journey to Bethlehem.
11. Salzburg, Austria
Is this Christmas or Halloween in Salzburg? You’ll have to go there to find out.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The town also plays host to a more unusual Yuletide tradition. Across Austria and Bavaria, in December people dress up as terrifying Alpine beasts known as krampuses and rampage through the streets in search of naughty children in need of punishment.
12. Santa Claus, Indiana
The town of Santa Claus was originally called Santa Fe, but that’s not half as much fun.
Courtesy Spencer County Visitors Bureau
The Land of Lights display is a 1.2-mile drive around the Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort.
13. Strasbourg, France
Each year, the city also celebrates the Christmas traditions of guest countries. In 2018, the city opens its arms to Finland.
14. Queenstown, New Zealand
The traditional Christmas colors of red, green and white take on an entirely new meaning in New Zealand, where red represents the “pohutukawa” (New Zealand’s ruby-red flowering Christmas tree), white represents the pristine sandy beaches, and green? The kiwi, of course!
15. Valkenburg, The Netherlands
This small town is the Dutch center for Christmas festivities.
Valkenburg’s Velvet Cave is transformed into a Christmas Market and the residence of Santa, where visitors can see his room of presents and reindeer sleigh.
This article was originally published December 2013 and updated November 2018.