A classic Christmas has its own charm, but there’s also much to be said for the joy of celebrating the holidays differently and (dare we say it) doing away with the predictability of year-on-year routines. For some, it’s the alluring novelty of a new experience, while for others, it’s about mindfulness, conscious consumption and making meaningful choices.
To help inspire and get you started, we asked 16 global experts in décor, food, entertaining, gifting and travel to share their ideas and tips for an alternative holiday experience. And they wowed, without a doubt. From crafting handmade Christmas trees to whipping up a delicious vegan meal, even climbing a volcano or chasing auroras in the sky, their ideas show that observing the festive season differently is not only doable, but also a lot of fun.
Craft A Quirky Christmas Tree
Claire Armstrong of Pillar Box Blue
“I’m an upcycler, so I love to make things from stuff I already own or what others may consider rubbish. One of the fun things I like to make every year is an alternative Christmas tree, and my favourite is the one I crafted from salvaged wood, knobs and hooks. It was straightforward to create and only took a couple of hours, sawing and painting the wood before adding the ironmongery.
[Photo courtesy: Claire Armstrong]
“Real Christmas trees are lovely, but I have little room for one in my Victorian home. So, this quirky alternative was perfect as it hung flat against the wall and didn’t take up too much space. It was also in keeping with my upcycling intent, as most of the wood is salvaged skirting boards as well as knobs and hooks from old houses – some from my renovations and others from the neighbour’s skips. It was also easy to decorate: you can hang the ornaments from all the hooks and knobs, plus it was a real head-turner – my guests kept commenting on it. For a complete step-by-step tutorial, see here, and for more upcycled Christmas tree ideas, click here.”
Claire is an award-winning British blogger who has been crafting and upcycling for over 30 years. She shares her upcycles and crafts through pillarboxblue.com and craft magazines. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration.
Adopt A Different Culture
Beth Le Manach of Entertaining with Beth
“A wonderful way to switch up the holiday routine is to ‘adopt’ another culture’s customs for the day. My husband is French, and he gets a little homesick around the holidays, so when we were first married, we decided that Christmas Eve would be a French Christmas and Christmas Day would be an American one.
[Photo courtesy: Beth Le Manach]
“On Christmas Eve, we serve traditional French foods like a tarte au soleil and Champagne for appetisers, coquilles Saint-Jacques for the main course and, of course, a bûche de Noël for dessert. It’s a wonderful way to keep the French traditions alive for our children and have them experience a little bit of France when we can’t actually be in France.”
Beth Le Manach, a cooking and entertaining expert, shares recipes that are elegant enough for entertaining, but easy enough for a weeknight meal. Follow her on Instagram and YouTube for her fuss-free, foolproof recipes and tips.
Make It Meaningful
Jayne Crowther-Green of Well Travelled Munchkins
“Last year we decided to exchange one special day for seven truly amazing ones. We traded the Great British winter for the warm, welcoming sunshine of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, and it was even better than we had imagined! The weather was superb, the food was delicious, and we spent every single day in our swimmers on some of Europe’s best beaches, all in the middle of December!
[Photo courtesy: Jayne Crowther-Green]
“And brilliantly, while we were away, something quite unexpected happened: our attitudes towards Christmas completely changed. The focus shifted from quantity to quality. Gifts bought and packed into the suitcase were thoughtfully chosen. The children had time to appreciate and play with their toys, rather than feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of presents to unwrap. It all felt so much more meaningful.
“The magic of Christmas is ultimately about being together. And if the sun is shining, it’s the icing on the cake. We loved it so much we are doing the same again this year. Santa, we’ll see you in Portugal!”
Jayne-Crowther Green is the voice behind the blog ‘Well Travelled Munchkins’, all about travelling with kids. Based in the UK, the family of five chases all the experiences that travel can offer them. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook.
Create A String Light Christmas Tree
Remi Bagwell of The Budget Decorator
“For anyone looking to save money and space with their Christmas decorations, an alternative Christmas tree using string lights and a little creativity is the answer! All you need is a basic Christmas tree outline to create the look of a glittering, glowing tree. Creating a tree shape flat against a window saves space and doubles as a window display, too!
[Photo courtesy: Remi Bagwell]
“You can also create a different Christmas tree by stringing lights from floor to ceiling in a cone shape that will resemble a tall, well-lit tree. It’s a great option if you have floorspace, but don’t want the hassle of setting up a tree with all those ornaments.
“I also love Norfolk pines as a Christmas tree alternative. They make great houseplants, so they can fit into your home decor year-round and look great dressed up for the holiday season, too!”
Remi is a DIY fan who loves finding new ways to create practical, economical solutions to everyday problems. She loves switching up her home decor and is always looking for new ideas and DIY techniques. Visit her on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram for inspiration.
Chef Doug McNish of dougmcnish.com
“Though most people are sitting down to eat turkey with animal-based gravy during the holidays, I like to spread the good tidings the plant-based way! Making a great vegan gravy can be easy using tamari and red wine as a replacement for the traditional beef stock or veal jus. Both ingredients add umami to the sauce, are easy to get from virtually any store, simple to use and naturally gluten-free! I like using a full-bodied wine like shiraz – just make sure it’s vegan!
[Photo courtesy: Doug Mcnish]
“I like to think of tamari as my traditional veal jus when creating vegan gravy: remember a little goes a long way! When you are cooking with red wine (or any alcohol really!) just make sure that you take the time to cook out the alcohol at the beginning or you’ll taste the raw alcohol flavour at the end. Bon appetit!”
Doug McNish is a globally recognised executive chef, consultant and award-winning food writer. At The Edgy Vedge in the Cayman Islands, Chef Mcnish will be offering a full holiday pre-order pickup including a special not-to-miss plant-based gravy. Follow him on Instagram and see his latest book on Amazon.com.
Fly On Christmas Day
Megan Jerrard of Solo Female Travellers
“While most people travel to spend Christmas at home, one year I decided to do Christmas a bit differently and spend it at the airport (after all, Christmas is supposed to be spent around family, and the staff at the Qantas Club were close enough!).
[Photo courtesy: Megan Jerrard]
“I arrived at a dead airport and was instantly checked in. With no other passengers at the terminal, it was the fastest security check I’d ever been through. And as I was the only one, I spent the hours before my flight from Melbourne to Tokyo sharing free Champagne with the flight crew. The plane was empty (who else flies on Christmas Day?!), and the staff were in a festive spirit, so I received a free upgrade to Business Class and sang loudly (probably drunk!) to Christmas tunes played over the loudspeaker for the 10 other passengers on the plane.
“Typically, transit is the worst part of the travel experience, but if you’re after something truly magical: quick check-ins, free upgrades, no lines (thanks Santa!), consider flying on Christmas Day.”
Meg Jerrard is the co-founder of Solo Female Travelers, a pioneering platform committed to female empowerment through international travel via its global community of 210,000 solo women travellers, expert travel resources, and women-led and -focused tours. Visit Megan on Facebook and Instagram.
Gift An Experience
Melissa Goodwin of Frugal And Thriving
“Many of us are overwhelmed with ‘stuff’, so an alternative to the traditional gift is a service or experience, such as tickets for a concert, a fun activity voucher for a river cruise, a massage, or a service subscription.
“An experience gift doesn’t have to be expensive; we’re all feeling the pinch right now, so a non-stuff gift can be the perfect budget gift alternative. For example, instead of buying a restaurant voucher, you could offer to cook a meal for someone in their home. Or you could give a loved one a DIY spa treatment or take them on a picnic. If you have a skill like playing a musical instrument, you could even offer lessons to someone who wants to learn.”
Melissa Goodwin has been writing about frugal living for 10+ years, but has been saving her pennies since she first got pocket money. An Australian blogger, Melissa loves learning new things and passing on what she has learned. Follow her on Facebook.
DIY A Wooden Pallet Christmas Tree
Julie Fiato of Redhead Can Decorate
“After we received this very large wooden pallet left over from a delivery, I knew I could repurpose it with pretty lights in the shape of a tree for our exterior Christmas decor. While at the thrift store, I took the idea a step further by collecting gold and white ornaments, which seemed to be in abundance that year. I even found that big gold star on the thrift store shelf. One afternoon I put it all together, and it came to life! I couldn’t believe how beautiful it turned out, and with fairly basic steps. You’ve got to see this beauty at night. For the full tutorial (with diagrams) including how we added the stump, click here.”
[Photo courtesy: Julie Fiato]
Julie Fiato is a self-taught DIY Home Improvement Blogger who lives in Michigan with her husband of 30 years. She loves to share her love of cooking by giving out her free homemade (mostly) healthy recipes. Subscription to her Saturday newsletter is free – get it by signing up on her blog. Visit Julie on Facebook and Instagram.
Have A Picnic At The Beach
Ana Frias of Muy Delish
“My husband and I just moved to a new country (Portugal), and it will be our first Christmas without our family and close friends. We also live 300 feet from the ocean – another change! Instead of having a large feast with a lot of people, we decided to have a picnic at the Praia de Albarquel beach and incorporate some Portuguese treats. This is totally different than what we’re used to!
[Photo courtesy: Ana Frias]
“Cosying up with warm soup and individual chicken pot pies sounds like the perfect day to me! Oh! and let’s not forget dessert the Portuguese way: I’m thinking Pastel de Nata and Meia de Leite.”
Ana Frias is the blogger, photographer, stylist and recipe maker behind the Muy Delish blog where she shares recipes inspired by her native country Mexico. Visit Ana on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
Climb A Volcano
Olly Gaspar of We Seek Travel
“After living on the road for the past four years, I can say I’ve had several different Christmases. My favourite Christmas Day was in 2018 when we climbed Bali’s Mount Batur for sunrise. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t align with the Christmas spirit, and we were met with a complete white-out of clouds at the summit – no view for us! However, it was still an awesome day; we met some like-minded travellers as well as some cheeky monkeys at the top.”
[Photo courtesy: Olly Gaspar]
Olly Gaspar is a Swedish-born Australian photographer and runs the raw adventure backpacking blog, We Seek Travel. He and his life partner, Haylea, have been backpacking around the world on a shoestring budget for the past four years. Follow Olly on Instagram and Facebook.
Make A Wall Christmas Tree
Rachel Mae Smith of The Crafted Life
“If you don’t have the space for a full tree, consider using your wall to create an alternate Christmas tree! Cut a large triangle out of paper, tape up and decorate. You can also make a tree out of fabric, simple tree branches, or even wood. Whatever you make, mount it with command strips for a renter-friendly option (just make sure to check the weight limit!). There are so many possibilities: think of the wall as your canvas, and have fun!”
Keep It Fresh And Green
Heidi Richter of The Simple Green
“The holidays can be overrun with sweets, so I like to ensure there are ample vegetables on my Christmas table. Fresh green salads aren’t typical holiday food; however, when combined with warm, roasted vegetables or hearty grains, they can be transformed into a festive, comforting and nutritious dish that everyone will love. Plus, it’s great way to keep up the green vegetable intake which can fall to the wayside this time of year.
[Photo courtesy: Heidi Richter]
“I love to mix tender baby greens with roasted winter vegetables like golden or purple beets, carrots, parsnips, Brussel sprouts or cauliflower. Cooked farro, quinoa or wild rice are also a great addition. Dressings with a citrus base are perfect for a holiday salad and, for a festive touch, I love a sprinkling of ruby pomegranate seeds on top.”
Heidi Richter is the Nanaimo-based photographer and recipe developer behind ‘The Simple Green’ blog. She fuels her love for food, gardening and photography with plenty of matcha tea and sourdough bread. Look up Heidi on Instagram and Facebook.
Celebrate Christmas Abroad
Nastasia Yakoub of Dame Traveler
“Growing up in the Midwest, I’ve always celebrated Christmas traditionally at home with my family in Michigan. Many of them were, in fact, perfect snowy Christmas days, but as I’ve gotten older and become a traveller, life has changed a bit. Now, I’m more open to celebrating the holidays abroad.
“This year, I’ll be in Iceland, hunting auroras and exploring the natural wonders of the majestic place. Domestic flights are expensive in the current scenario, but international flights are often cheaper at this time of year, so consider other places and ways to celebrate! Perhaps, a pasta dinner in Italy on Christmas Eve, a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia or castle-hopping in Ireland. The possibilities are endless!”
Nastasia Yakoub is a labour and delivery nurse turned photographer, travel blogger and author. She has leveraged her passion for travel and photography by founding a revolutionary women’s travel community, Dame Traveler, where female voyagers can inspire and connect with one another. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter , and get a copy of her book, Dame Traveler: Live the Spirit of Adventure
Try A Holiday Butter Board
Snejana Andreeva of The Modern Nonna
“Charcuterie boards are great when hosting for the holidays – easy to prepare and bring people together – but why not switch things up a little and wow your guests this season by making a Holiday Butter Board instead?
“Butter boards are modern, unique and versatile: just slather softened butter on a wooden cutting board and top it with seasonal favourites like figs, fig jam, hot honey, crushed hazelnuts, dried cranberries or just anything you wish to put on top. If you don’t like butter, you can also use goat cheese for the base.
[Photo courtesy: Snejana Andreeva]
“To make everything sanitary and safe, add a small piece of parchment over the board or use a brand-new board before smearing on the butter/cheese. Last but not least, don’t forget to leave butter knives on the side, along with freshly sliced bread, so your guests can use their own cutlery. The butter board will blow everyone away, I promise.”
Sneji, also known as ‘The Modern Nonna’ loves to take traditional recipes and add her very own modern twist. Bring her into your kitchen this holiday season by following her on TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest.
Spend Christmas Away From Home
Ellie Quinn Belhaj of The Wandering Quinn
“Looking back at the last few years, on an average, I’ve spent every other Christmas away from home travelling. One of my most memorable Christmas Days was spent in Koh Tao, Thailand. I remember walking the streets on Christmas Eve and watching a local decorate a cardboard tree with tinsel. My friends and I found it amusing, and so heart-warming. We spent Christmas Day by the pool, and had Thai red curry for Christmas dinner at a restaurant right on the beach. As our families at home woke up, we called them up to wish them Merry Christmas!
[Photo courtesy: Ellie Quinn Belhaj]
“This is just one of my many Christmases away from home; others include a boat tour around the backwaters of Kerala, India on Christmas Day, and a beach day as well as crazy golf in the rain on an island in Indonesia!”
British travel blogger Ellie Quinn Belhaj of The Wandering Quinn has been addicted to travel since 2010 and has visited some 60+ countries. Besides content creation, she also runs group tours and retreats, which you can join and read about here. Visit her on Instagram and YouTube.
Gift Something Sustainable
Danielle Alvarado of Sustainably Kind Living
“Sustainable Christmas and holiday gifts are a great way to not only reduce waste, but also offer something that will last for years and years. Sadly, the subtle art of gift-giving is responsible for millions of tons of waste that ends up in landfills, not to mention an expanded carbon footprint. By choosing clutter-free or even DIY gifts instead, you’ll ensure that all gifts do what they are intended to do: serve the recipient!
“Clutter-free gifts that we love here at SKL include cooking classes, music courses, city passes, gym memberships, children’s museum tickets, manicure/pedicure, massages, membership to AAA, movie passes, tickets to the ballet, helping with bill payments such as utilities and rent, babysitting, and even a weekly or monthly coffee date with the gift giver.
“Some of our favourite DIY gifts include homemade beauty products like body scrubs and lip balm, baked goods such as sourdough bread and muffins, homemade jam, a super thoughtful scrapbook, propagated plants and DIY macramé decor such as hanging planters and wall art. For more sustainable gifting suggestions, see our gift guide, zero-waste gift wrapping, unique as well as best eco-friendly gift ideas.”
Danielle is the CEO and Editor-In-Chief of SustainablyKindLiving, a sustainable living website that aims to make an eco-friendly lifestyle as accessible and transparent as possible, with free guides and well-researched articles. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.