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If you can't be in Whistler for Christmas try these travel hot spots

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Many cities and towns string up streams of twinkling lights and a Christmas tree at this time of the year, but some celebrate the occasion better than most. Here is a selection of places that would add some zest to your Christmas as you look ahead to travel plans in the future.

Bethlehem, West Bank

Nothing compares to a pilgrimage to Jesus' birthplace. Thousands of pilgrims and tourists from around the world gather together with local Christians in the biblical town at Christmas time.

There will be long lines at the ancient Church of the Nativity, as the faithful wait to visit the grotto where many believe Jesus was born. You walk down a narrow cobblestone stairway into the crowded, stuffy cave, with its blackened ceiling from the smoke of oil lamps burning over the centuries. For believers, the grotto connects the Christian faithful, from the distant past to the present.

The excitement on Manger Square and in the Old City on Christmas Eve is electric. The place to be for many as the clock strikes midnight is St Catherine's Church, for the Midnight Mass service.

Bethlehem f'Ghajnsielem, Malta

If you don't feel like going through the process of visiting the original Bethlehem, this could be a good alternative. Bethlehem f'Ghajnsielem is a life-size nativity experience spread over a large area of formerly abandoned fields on the western Maltese island of Gozo.

Populated by more than 150 actors 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 a grotto housing baby Jesus. Other attractions include the carpenter and blacksmith's dwellings, the bakery, a market selling fruit, fish and vegetables and a barn.

New York

Rockefeller Center lies at the core of the New York Christmas. Its famed ice rink has been around for 80 years and the world's tallest Christmas tree, which is lit in early December, has been a holiday tradition for slightly longer. These two attractions are a must for wintertime visitors. Across the street, Radio City hosts the annual Christmas Spectacular, starring the Rockettes, wooden soldiers and Santa.

Shopping is always big in New York so check out the Christmas window displays in New York's largest department stores. If shopping here is not your style head to the European-style winter market at Union Square, which has more than 150 local and national vendors hawking an impressive selection of handcrafted gifts, ranging from jewelry and accessories to leather goods and artwork.

Rovaniemi, Finland

This town, located just north of the Arctic Circle, is Christmas HQ for many. Father Christmas' hometown is a must for anyone that still believes in the magic of Christmas. The Santa Claus Village and Santa Park see thousands of visitors, as children make gingerbread cookies with Mrs. Claus, enrol in Elf School, or take a calligraphy class and compose their Christmas wish lists with a traditional quill.

There are shops, restaurants, cafés, husky and reindeer rides, snowmobile tours, design items and souvenirs, and ice and snow constructions.

If this is not enough you can stay in the Arctic Snow Hotel, which normally opens mid-December, made entirely of snow and ice, but equipped with saunas and hot tubs to help you thaw.

Nuremberg, Germany

The Nuremberg Christmas Market is a German institution, attracting more than two million visitors each year. Two hundred stalls are packed along the Hauptmarkt, offering toys, trinkets and gingerbread treats. The Market Council is serious about making sure only traditional handmade toys and holiday goods are sold which means there are no mass-produced plastic garlands here.

Some vendors also put up fantastic displays as they compete for the Most Beautiful Stall Design award. It looks especially enchanting after dark when the coloured lights create a fairy-tale spectacle. It can be cold but shoppers are warmed by sizzling bratwurst and mulled wine.

Other highlights include a giant carved wooden Ferris wheel, old-fashioned carousel and a steam train.

Reykjavik, Iceland

With only four hours of daylight, Reykjavik is ready-made for Christmas. And when it comes to Christmas celebrations, Iceland has a particular peculiarity. Their folklore talks of 13 characters, known as Yule Lads, who show up in town on the 13 days leading up to Christmas to bring gifts to nice children. You will see them in shops around town and at the Reykjavík Art Museum, Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir, and City Hall.

Rows of small, beautiful huts make up the Yule Town Christmas market on Ingolfstorg surrounding the ice-skating rink which opens on Dec.1. As a bonus you are likely to experience northern lights displays above a city covered in snow and Christmas lights.

Quebec City, Canada

Probably no other North American city is so "Christmassy." Head to Quartier Petit Champlain in the Old Town where you'll walk straight into a scene from a Christmas movie. Christmas trees line the streets, colourful decorations and large snowflakes hang from the rooftops, and Christmas lights and snow transform this part of town into something magical. If this was not enough, head to Place Royale at night when the streets are lit up and the giant Christmas tree in the main square takes centre stage.

The German Christmas Market comes alive with typical wooden kiosks and scintillating lights in the gardens and at the place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville. This is a wonderland with a unique and warm atmosphere, beautiful decorations, a great selection of succulent German treats (bratwurst, mulled wine, gingerbread, and much more), exquisite Christmas gifts, choral singing, shows, and indoor and outdoor performances.

There is also a Christmas Market at the Old Port Market from Nov. 23, where you will find a variety of food products and handicrafts, perfect to enjoy yourself or give as gifts.

Santa Claus, Indiana, USA

Christmas is a year-round occasion in this small town but December is especially busy. The town receives thousands of letters a year from children trying to reach St. Nick himself. A group of volunteers called Santa's Elves was set up in the mid-1930s to reply to each letter.

You will spot interesting street names like Jingle Bells Drive and Candy Cane Lane. Other Christmas-themed attractions include Santa's Candy Castle, Santa Claus Christmas Store, and Santa's Stables. The Land of Lights display is a two-kilometre drive around the Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort.

www.LenRutledge.com

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