Whether you roller-skate to church like the Venezuelans or swap chocolate for books like the Icelanders, lifestyle journalist Carole Beck shows how we can take inspiration from other cultures this Christmas
1. Get moving like the Venezuelans
In the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, locals roller-skate their way to church for early morning festive mass rather than drive. From 16 to 24 December, the council even closes the roads to cars, so skaters can make it to mass safely.
An hour of roller-skating burns up to 548 calories, so it might be time to dust off your pair and go for a brisk skate in the local park, or simply ditch the car a few times this festive season and visit friends, family or church on foot to increase your steps.
2. Swap chocolate for books like the Icelanders
Forget chocolate – Icelanders have a long-standing tradition of giving each other books on Christmas Eve. Once the family meal has been cleared away, gifts are exchanged and they then spend the evening tucked up in their beds, reading their new books.
This is so much a part of Icelandic custom that publishers only issue new books in the run-up to Christmas – a phenomenon called the ‘Jolabokaflod’, or ‘Christmas book flood’. So, rethink the stocking fillers this year and replace the chocolate variety packs for a good book instead (guaranteed to last longer!).
3. Take the plunge like the Dutch
For a healthy way to see in the New Year, take inspiration from the Dutch, who go for an al fresco dip on 1 January to symbolise a fresh start. Their ‘Nieuwjaarsduik’ – or New Year’s Dive – is now so popular that 51,000 people take the plunge annually in the icy North Sea.
Sound like fun? Try a dip in one of the UK’s many outdoor lidos this Christmas – swimming in colder water can give you an endorphin high, burns up more calories as the body has to work harder to keep warm and it definitely beats staying in and watching the TV.
4. Pack in veg like the Polish
Researchers at the Cromwell Hospital in London investigated the calorie count of Christmas dinners around the world and the Polish dinner scooped the top prize for the lowest calorie meal. Their dinner includes fish – traditionally carp – rather than meat, and lots of vegetables, including borscht, a beetroot soup. For pudding, the Poles traditionally serve fruit desserts, proving that it’s easy to eat your five-a-day, even at Christmas.
5. Wind down like the Norwegians
Move over ‘hygge’ – this Christmas it’s all about ‘koselig’ (pronounced kush-lee). The Norwegian term loosely translates as ‘cosy’, but it’s more about the general concept of happiness, being with friends and feeling content. The city of Tromso sees no sunlight from December to late January, so locals channel a sense of ‘koselig’ to get through the gloom of winter, taking time to relax and spend quality time with their loved ones.
As taking time out can have a significantly positive effect on your mood and help to reduce fatigue, a little ‘koselig’ can definitely help to combat the stresses of the Christmas rush, so bring on the candles, fluffy blankets and hot drinks.
6. Choose fish like the Italians
Instead of heavy meats, why not take inspiration from the Italians and opt for omega 3-rich fish as an alternative? Southern Italian families only serve fish and seafood on Christmas Eve, owing to the Catholic tradition of avoiding meat on the eve of holy days.
7. Push yourself like the workers in Antarctica
Workers stationed at the Amundsen-Scott scientific research station in Antarctica don’t let temperatures of -25°C stop them from getting some exercise on Christmas Day. ‘The race around the world’ is a two-mile course at the South Pole through each of the world’s lines of longitude, and most of those taking part run, walk or ski the route. The winner is awarded a hot shower for a whole five minutes – a big treat when your shower is normally restricted to two.
If that’s not enough inspiration for you to brave the cold, check out our 7 scenic winter walking trails. Staying active in winter, especially exercise in the great outdoors, can make us feel more energetic, help to ward off colds and help us beat the weight creep.
8. Eat more mindfully like the French
The French plan their meals thoughtfully during the festive period. Rather than grazing on treats throughout the holiday, they indulge on two days only – Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. And even on those days, they only drink alcohol with meals, showing there’s no need to indulge during the whole period.
Feeling inspired to visit one of the world’s most festive cities? Check out our 9 alternative festive markets to visit this Christmas.