Travel Reveals Many Ways to (Over)do Christmas

Written by admin on January 30, 2010 – 12:16 pm -

So many people are Christmassed out by the time December 25th rolls around that it’s a relief when the actual day arrives. Deck the halls and fa-la-la! ’Tis the season for eggnog and holiday cheer until you want to get in bed and pull the covers over your head. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the constant sounds of holiday Muzak bombarding you as you enter a store.

Are you irritated by television ads promoting things to buy, buy, buy? Even adorable Sasha sitting on the presidential lap for the “igniting” of the national Christmas tree and Michelle Obama reading stories to children just add to the heap. Are you tired of Christmas? If so, you’re not alone.

But if you travel, you can get a different dose of Christmas, depending on where you’re going. There’s no question there can be way too much Christmas—and the feeling is global. If you happen to be in Asia, where they share the religion of marketing, it’s hard to escape stuffed Santa dolls and streets festooned with wreaths and miles of lights. Artificial snow in Southeast Asia? Why not?

Paris has a special glow during the holiday season, as do many cities throughout the world. The lights on the Champs Élysée may be overpowering, but they’re excess with a French accent, and variety makes the too-muchness of Christmas a little more bearable.

Christmas Markets in the EU have become big business and an increasing number of cities are promoting them as another way to attract tourists. Come one and all and stay in the area’s hotels and eat in local restaurants—and spend. But the markets have amazing things for sale and many of them are beautiful and unfamiliar to Americans

Americans who are traveling on business frequently buy gifts for their friends and family when they’re abroad precisely because they may find something unusual from a local craftsman or simply a more European sort of thing—and anyway, you’re supposed to bring home a souvenir, aren’t you? Even then, if you’re in Munich or Perugia, make certain the item wasn’t made in China. If it was, it probably costs less back home. But will you have time to go shopping after you return?

But just now I have found myself craving some holiday spirit. I’ve just returned from Buenos Aires, and the Argentines traditionally don’t decorate for the holiday until December 8th. When they do, it doesn’t feel terribly festive. The city doesn’t go all out decking the streets with holly and ornaments.

The Plaza de Mayo, the city’s historical center, famous because of the Perón rallies as well as the riots that took place in 2001, doesn’t even have a decorated tree. The square is surrounded by the city’s Cathedral, city hall and the presidential palace, The Casa Rosada, looking much as they do anytime of the year.

The stores and restaurants may put up a light or two, but don’t expect copious garlands. Perhaps it’s because it’s supposed to be dry and hot during December. But that doesn’t stop Miami from overdoing Santa.

The tango is the national pastime of Argentina, but don’t expect the milongas (dance halls) to look festive. Maybe it’s because it would detract from the dancers, who wear shoes that frequently shimmer and glitter, as they glide across the dance floor with precision and elegance.

No one should go to Argentina without watching people tango—which is nearly impossible since wherever there are tourists, there are bound to be dancers. Some dance because they’re in the spirit. Others perform and then pass the hat hoping to collect some pesos or dollars. The tango is done by people of all ages and it’s nothing less than sensual without necessarily being sexual. There are definite dos and don’ts when it comes to milonga etiquette.

Cultures are so different. Buenos Aires is considered the Paris of South America and some of its building are very French in feeling. The ultimate tribute to that architecture and design is the original building of the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt on Avenue Alvear, which looks like so many streets in Paris’s 16th or 17th arrondissements. But it’s not all decked out in splashy Christmas colors.

The original building is more of a statement about how the French architect León Dourge built a Hotel Particulier in 1934 for a member of the Argentine aristocracy. After extensive renovations and the addition of the new section, the Park Hyatt opened this property in July 2006.

Still if you can’t afford to stay there (and expect New York City prices), at least go for tea. Not only will you see some the city’s most elegant and rich residents, but you’ll also see some understated holiday decorations if you’re in B.A. during the Christmas season.

It’s not New York or Paris. But the belle époque glamour of the Palacio, complete with rows of columns and the intricate ironwork coupled with panels from a 17th century castle in Normandy in the Oak Bar, gives visitors a real insight into how the “Portena” rich and famous lived. And yes, even though smoking isn’t permitted in restaurants in this part of the city, cigar smoking is permitted in this opulent room. This visit to Buenos Aires made me contemplate whether I like all of the razzmatazz that accompanies the holidays in France and in the U.S. I’ve come to my personal conclusion but would appreciate hearing yours. In the meantime, merry, merry.


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