Holiday Decorations around the World

There hasn’t been too much winter chill in the air lately in East Tennessee, where daytime temps have been hovering around the 50-degree mark, only just turning colder a few days ago. Still, Christmas is less than three weeks away, and holiday decorations are up in force.

Though not a religious person, I still enjoy the spirit of the season, particularly the lights, the holly, and the trees. Combined, these decorations suggest a communal spirit of giving, and a general air of hope, something of which the world has been in short supply lately.

Here is a sampling of holiday decorations witnessed by yours truly during his travels around the globe. I shall start with cities that I once lived in, then move on from there.

Chicago

I grew up in Chicago, so the “Windy City” – so named for not for its weather but for its politicians – will always hold a place in my heart. From a photographic standpoint, Chicago is never better than when decorated for the holidays.

Inside Chicago’s City Hall – wall lights colored for the holidays.

“Star Wars” holiday snow globe at Lincoln Park Zoo, the country’s oldest public zoo.

Lamppost and wreath in Old Town, one of my former stomping grounds.

One of two lions standing sentinel outside the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago.

My hands were literally shaking as I stood on Columbus Bridge to snap this picture of a red-and-green-lit Wrigley Building. To the left of it, gulp, is Trump Tower.

The historic Water Tower, one of the only structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. To me, this picture just screams “Christmas.”

NOT a perfect picture, but a striking vertical composition, at the very least…and taken several hours after the previous picture.

Los Angeles

I spent 12 years in L.A., and even though I was never in the city for Christmas day, I still made sure to take in the decorations scattered about Greater Los Angeles County.

Downtown L.A. has had its share of peaks and valleys (and is currently experience something of a renaissance), but one mainstay for decades has been its Grand Central Market. Not a good picture but a bustle of activity and the source of some great budget dining.

Another terrible picture, but it is hard to capture motion without a tripod. Free ice skating in Pershing Square; note the palm trees whose trunks are adorned with holiday lights.

Only in Los Angeles (and at the MOCA Geffen Contemporary in particular): Santa Claus holding a penis.

Each December, the L.A. Department of Water and Power holds a drive-thru “parade” of holiday lights at Griffith Park, the country’s largest urban park. I chose to walk instead.

Their interpretation of L.A. City Hall, featured on TV’s “Dragnet” and for years the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

And one more: shooting star, Santa’s helper, and Griffith Observatory.

Mexico City

Similar to L.A., Mexico City never receives snow. Still, this majority-Catholic city more than holds its own when it comes to holiday decorations – especially in the Zócalo, as you’ll see in the next four pictures.

When I first starting visiting Mexico, during Thanksgiving of 2002, all that adorned the main square was a massive Christmas tree and lights on some of the surrounding buildings, as seen above.

In recent years, the Zócalo has taken on something of a carnival atmosphere, including market stalls (mostly selling junk food) topped with fake snow.

This toboggan run, in front of the whole-city-block Palacio Nacional, was closed but is demonstrative of the various distractions.

Even the three (four?) wise men made an appearance!

Nacimiento (nativity scene) outside the Church of Jesus of Nazareth, a few blocks south of the Zócalo. This  picture was taken on December 10, 2012, and the nacimiento is unusual in that most Mexico nativity scenes don’t include baby Jesus himself until December 25th; the cradle is merely filled with straw until that date.

Elsewhere in the city, Plaza Soumaya, an open-air shopping mall near San Ángel, hosts frequent free concerts and is home to a comprehensive art museum, Museo Soumaya (one of two in CDMX), owned by Carlos Slim and dedicated to his late wife.

Rome

“Rome. One lifetime is not enough.” So wrote Italian journalist Silvio Negro in his book of the same name, and truer words have seldom been written. The “Eternal City” is a great place to spend the holidays, especially considering its strong Christian roots, particularly in-and-around the Vatican, aka the Holy See, literally surrounded by Rome and the smallest – and most Catholic – country in the world.

The Spanish Steps, oddly devoid of people on a cloudless winter day…

…and later that same night, with holiday revelers walking off their pasta-and-gelato dinners.

St. Peter’s Square. Note the papal residence on the far right and the seasonal manger on the far left.

The aforementioned manger in St. Peter’s Square, one of hundreds, if not thousands, of nativity scenes in Rome and Vatican City.

Looking down on St. Peter’s Square and greater Rome. In the top center of the frame, you’ll see the Tiber River and Castel Sant’Angelo, beside which is free, city-sponsored ice skating.  If you wish to take in such a vantage point, note that it is 551 steps to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica…and worth the labor.

Letters to Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) posted around the Christmas tree inside Rome’s Termini Station. Many Italians still prefer to receive gifts from La Befana, a friendly witch who arrives on January 6th to celebrate Epiphany.

Munich

I spent New Year’s Eve, 2007 in Munich’s Marienplatz (Mary’s Square), watching locals shoot fireworks and drink Glühwein. The pre-Christmas market stalls had already been cleared out for the season, but there was still a plethora of holiday decorations on display, not only in the Marienplatz but along Kaufingerstrasse, the pedestrian walkway leading from the imposing Karlstor (Carl’s Gate) to the square itself.

Just a few blocks from the train station, the Karlstor opens up to this seasonal skating rink. A wooden stall not only rents skates but also sells coffee, pretzels, and the aforementioned Glühwein (warm, mulled wine).

No fewer than four churches dot the medieval-era streets that branch off of the Marienplatz. The beautiful tree in the Heligegeistkirche (Church of the Holy Ghost), pictured above, makes a nice accent to the austere altar.

My 10.0 MP Canon G7 camera was woefully inadequate for capturing night pictures in Munich, but this Kaufingerstrasse streetscape, featuring a department store’s windows decorated to resemble an advent calendar, hopefully conveys the spirit.

Another building exterior, further along the same street and the picture itself a bit overexposed.

The Marienplatz itself, including the Altes und Neues Rathhäuser (old and new city halls) and a real Christmas tree. Photo taken perhaps two hours before the informal fireworks show.

Marienplatz during the anything-goes fireworks show. Watch out for runaway bottle rockets! I hope to blog more about NYE in Munich before the month is through.

Stockholm

I have been to Stockholm twice; once in summer and once in winter. I vastly prefer the Swedish capital during the winter. Days are short (and most of my pictures were taken after dark as a result), but the snow is never less than beautiful, and the chill brings a delightful gleam to everyone’s eyes.

One of the only daytime pictures in my Stockholm collection (not counting any taken inside museums, which around Christmastime are seldom open past 4 p.m., when it is already dark) is the above photo of Gamla Stan, the “Old City” quarter that is a delight of narrow lanes for pedestrians to explore.

The image above, taken perhaps ten minutes after the first in the “Stockholm” section of this post, is of the crooked square that hosted this informal Christmas market, one of at least four in the city. The building in the background houses the Nobel Museum, honoring all Nobel laureates. Worth checking out – and yes, open during daylight hours only.

Cross the canal and the pedestrian mall continues as Normmalm, a shopper’s delight.

Normmalm intersects with busy Klarabergsgatan and Hamngatan, the latter of which houses NK, a grand department store on part with Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.

NK store window.

The open-air museum of Skansen, on the island of Djurgården, is home to stave churches, one-room school houses, and a lovely Christmas market. Here, a Christmas tree stands in as Sweden’s version of the holiday maypole.

The northern stretch of Normmalm, after 9 p.m. Most shops have closed for the day but there is still some pedestrian activity…and snow flurries that are nothing to sneeze at.

Copenhagen

Enormous tree in Copenhagen’s Central Station – a great way to be welcomed to the Danish capital.

Strøget, pictured above, is Copenhagen’s main shopping streets, and is, along with Stockholm’s Normmalm, one of the longest pedestrian malls in Europe. Although there are a few souvenir shops that a first-timer to Denmark may want to visit, my general advice for the shops along Strøget is  (unless you have a bottomless wallet) to browse but don’t buy.

Strøget passes momentarily through a small square that doubles as a Christmas tree lot and winter market.

Santa Claus, McDonald’s, and shameless marketing.

The Copenhagen equivalent to Stockholm’s NK is Magasin du Nord. I splurged on a wool sweater here. I got home, wore it once, and forgot to wash it on cold. It promptly shrank to the size of a thong.

Tivoli, the entry gate of which is pictured above, is the world’s second-oldest amusement park. Its gardens, arcades, and rides are timeless, and it is a wonderful place to spend a summer evening, when it stays light out until almost 11 p.m. Tivoli reopens briefly during the holidays; be sure to dress warm!

A prolonged exposure helped me capture this image of pedestrians in movement near Copenhagen’s classical city hall and simple Christmas tree in Rådhus Square.

Singapore

I hate when my posts to start repeating themselves, and I think that may be the case here; I previously blogged – and included pictures from – holiday travels to Singapore and Malaysia in 2006 (not to mention Rome in 2008-09) and Stockholm and Copenhagen in 2010). Still, Singapore’s Christmas decorations remain the best that I have ever seen, and they more than merit inclusion in today’s post.

 

The main drag in Singapore’s commercial district is Orchard Road,  a cross between Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and Honolulu’s Kalakaua Avenue.

Paragon is a Bangkok-based department store that recently opened a branch in Harlem, NYC.

Orchard Road after dark. Lights hang from banyan trees as shoppers stroll towards Raffles Place, California Pizza Kitchen, and other destinations.

Chinatown bustles until the wee hours of the morning. Overhead lanterns and seasonal lights lend a low-key holiday feel, although the market stalls, which attract hordes more people during daylight hours, dominate the scene.

Chinatown again. This ostentatious theater façade is demonstrative of Singapore’s all-about exuberance over the holidays.

A strange scene: Christmas tree suspended from the ceiling of Sun City Mall, indoors from another strange scene: the Suntec Fountain of Wealth, the largest fountain in the world.

Magic hour outside the Goodwood Park Hotel with its tasteful Christmas tree.

____________________

The cities featured above are just a sampling; a few of my earlier holiday trips featured pictures of such bad quality I frankly was embarrassed to post them. Furthermore, I still haven’t been to the Philippines, where it is said that Christmas lights go up as early as September; or to Manger Square, in Bethlehem – the place where it all started. Hopefully soon, Loyal Reader; I still have a few blank pages in my passport.

What are you favorite cities for holiday decorations?

All images are the property of GringoPotpourri unless credited otherwise, and should be used with permission only.

Author: gringopotpourri

Gringo - aka Scott - was born outside of Chicago and has lived most of his life in or around big cities. He spent two years of his adult life in Mexico City (talk about big cities!) and fell in love with Mexican food, history, and women, all while weathering the culture shock. Life's journey has since brought him to rural Tennessee, perhaps the biggest culture shock of them all. Scott also enjoys movies, hiking, and travel in general.

3 thoughts on “Holiday Decorations around the World”

  1. I did enjoy this. You’ve been to many places during the holidays! As much as I’ve traveled, I haven’t visited any places during this season. Most of my life, I spent them in Mexico City. Even when I didn’t live there, I’d go for a visit during or around Christmas. And then it’s just been a few places in the US, wherever I was living in at the time (Durham, NC; Portland, OR; and now Austin, TX.) Moved to to Utah in January and left before fall that year. I always wanted to visit Europe during Christmas. Italy or Germany.
    Also, I had no idea there were two Museo Soumayas and that Plaza.

    1. Hi Mani, thanks for commenting! I remember walking around Portland during a rainy December many years ago; I still had a manual camera back then and I don’t think the pictures survived my many moves.

      Plaza Loreto is just off of Av. Revolucion. It has a Sanborns, a courtyard, a cinema, and the low-key Museo Soumaya, with more Rodin sculptures and some rotating art.

      Have you enjoyed the snow in Austin?

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