Exchanging gifts and sharing lunch with family are common threads for Christmas celebrations around the world but there are a variety of customs that make each celebration unique. For the traveller, that can mean a Christmas tailor-made to suit your special interest.

THEATRE-GOERS

London's pantos

Treating the children to a traditional pantomime is as much a part of British Christmas tradition as plum pudding. While pantos are performed in every British city, London's shows offer stunning sets, special effects and glittering costumes that add up to a magical experience.

Good-humoured audiences get into the spirit by laughing, cheering and booing the cast. Favourites such as Mother Goose, Cinderella and Peter Pan get a run each year. Theatre companies compete to hire celebrity guest stars.

Newer titles and comical or raunchy pantos for adults have gained popularity in recent times. Many people take advantage of the significantly discounted rooms available in London around Christmas. The half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square has great bargains for last-minute theatre-goers and restaurants in the West End have savings of up to 50 per cent.

HISTORY BUFFS

Medieval fairs and historic hotels


Traditions such as kissing beneath the mistletoe and singing carols have their origins in medieval times, so those who love history enjoy celebrating the festive season in castles and museums where festivities come complete with knights, jousters, minstrels and maidens.

Each year, the Tower of London's Medieval Palace is transformed into a 13th-century carnival with jesters and musicians who entertain visitors at the court of King Edward I.

The medieval market fair at Caerphilly Castle in Wales, built by Gilbert de Clare, Lord of Glamorgan, during the reign of Henry III, brings the castle alive with a festive atmosphere.

In Shropshire, Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre's minstrels' tent is where the Yarnsmith of Norwich entertains with tales from ancient times. The 900-year-old Norwich Cathedral hosts a medieval fair with entertainers, a craft market, a hog roast and plenty of mulled wine.

Although the traditional British Christmas lunch is frequently prepared at home, some historic hotels are enticing revellers with accommodation packages where the family can sit back and be served, soak in the ambience and enjoy mulled wine and mince pies in front of an open fireplace. Some hotels also arrange Christmas Day visits from Santa.

SHOP-A-HOLICS

Europe's markets


From Brussels to Bucharest, cities have at least one market. Fairy lights, decorations and backdrops of old cobblestone town centres seem to be straight out of a story book.

Markets are packed with shoppers hunting for unique gifts: clog-clad elves in Copenhagen; dainty music boxes in Vienna; or hand-knitted socks in Tallinn.

Budapest's market in Vorosmarty Square is the spot for handmade dolls, crafts and pottery. The warren of cobbled streets in Germany's Regensburg bustles with boutiques specialising in expertly crafted decorations such as reindeer carousels and Santa dolls.

Bavaria's second largest city, Nuremberg, has one of Germany's largest markets, the Hauptmarkt, and is famous for gingerbread, toys such as the Nutcracker soldier and angel-figures.

Around Munich, more than 70 markets satisfy the most demanding shoppers.

In Prague, the largest market is in the picturesque Old Town Square, where shoppers hunt for Babushka dolls (they do come in a Santa version), Bohemian crystal and puppets.

EPICUREANS

Germany's table


The aromas of roasted almonds, chestnuts, gingerbread, smoked sausages and gluhwein waft through the crisp winter air. With a tradition of baking that stretches back centuries, some of the most mouth-watering traditions originate from this part of the world.

On top of the list is gingerbread that is baked in varieties including printen, a unique recipe made in Aachen, and lebkuchen, a spicy gingerbread invented by medieval monks. Stollen is a fruitcake with raisins and marzipan made to resemble the baby Jesus swaddled in cloth. The annual Dresden Stollen Festival is held each December; a 3 1/2 tonne stollen is auctioned each year for charity.

The traditional Christmas Day dish is goose served with potato dumplings, red cabbage and a wine-flavoured sauce.

PURISTS

Bethlehem and Rome


Thousands of people from around the world gather in Bethlehem's Manger Square, the biblical birthplace of Jesus. In 2000, Bethlehem was a war zone. Today, pilgrims are gradually returning to the city.

Manger Square has a German-style market selling handicrafts and festive decorations. And on December 24, local and international musicians belt out traditional Palestinian folk songs, Christmas music and popular European music. But for many, just being in the Holy Land is a meaningful experience. As is attending midnight mass at the Vatican where people hear the Pope's traditional blessings in St Peter's Basilica.

SKIERS Canada's resorts

Sleigh rides through a snowy wonderland, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Santa sloshing through the snow. With picture-book backdrops of glaciers and alpine lakes, there's white magic in the air in Canada's world-class ski resorts.

From beginner skiers to black diamond demons, droves of Canadians head to the country's snow-covered peaks for a holiday. It's such a popular way to celebrate Christmas that many families book as far as one year ahead to secure accommodation. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta has in-room Christmas trees, a reception with Santa, a Snow Ball dance party, traditional carolling and bonfires.

At Banff and Whistler, snow-covered villages come alive with carols and twinkling lights.

THRILL SEEKERS

US theme parks


Theme parks across the US are abuzz with festivities. From small amusement parks to the juggernauts of California and Florida, Santa and the elves deliver adrenalin-packed roller coasters and rides. Some Christmas-themed parks are so popular they operate all year. These include Santa's Workshop in Colorado (offering Santa's slide and a Christmas tree ride), Santa's Land in Vermont and Santa's Workshop in New York State's appropriately named North Pole.

Board the Merry Christmas Ferris Wheel or ride around Santa's Village in New Hampshire on the mini monorail.

From the immense Christmas tree to thousands of fairy lights, California's Disneyland is a dream destination for children. Events include the Christmas fantasy parade and Santa's reindeer round-up where the kids meet Santa and his team.

Disney's California Adventure park also jives with the Christmas spirit at Santa's Beach Blast where Kris Kringle goes into California party mode with surf music, sunglasses and limbo contests.

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