December Hot List: 8 Essential Experiences

This month, catch a traditional dance festival in Odisha, watch fireworks in Japan and marvel at a meteor shower in Canada.  
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Migratory birds such as flamingos flock to Gujarat’s Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary in winters. Photo by: Sourav Pal

With the temperatures dipping low enough to bring out the beanies and leather jackets, travellers are looking to dive into a winter paradise—be it spotting flamingos across India, stargazing in Québec or burning devilish art in Guatemala, here’s—here’s what to experience and where to do it in December.

 

Go (migratory) bird-watching across India

December | From Maharashtra to Assam—Winter in India is a delight for enthusiastic birders, since it is the season where our feathery friends escape cooler climes, usually Europe and Africa, and fly thousands of kilometres towards the warmer Indian subcontinent. If you’re planning a visit to Maharashtra in December—take time out to visit the Sewri Jetty in Mumbai or the small town of Bhigwan, about 250 kilometres from the city—both featuring as a hotspot for spotting flamingos. The Kaziranga National Park in Assam also becomes a temporary home to birds like the Pallas Fish Eagle and the Bengal Florican in these winter months.  Rosy pelicans, brahminy ducks, purple moorhens and herons are among the 200 different kinds of migratory birds visiting the Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary in Gujarat in these winter months. Flock to these major parks and cities to make some avian friends and don’t forget to pack your binoculars!

 

Dance to the beats of the Hornbill Festival in Kohima

Meet Nagaland’s indigenous communities at the annual Hornbill Festival, and learn of their rich culture and hunting traditions. Photo by: Abhishek Hajela.

December 1-10 | Naga Heritage Village Kisama—Travellers seeking a deep-dive into music and culture this winter shouldn’t miss the bustling Hornbill Festival in Kohima. The ten-day long festival offers a synergy of music from across the world—rock and K-pop alike—and day-long cultural activities like village walks, artist corners, food fests, treks to Mt. Teyozwu, byloom market displays, exhibits in their World War II museum.

 

Culture-hop in Odisha’s Konark festival

December 1-5 | Konark, Odisha—The Konark Dance Festival is the perfect platform for the country’s classical forms of dance—Odissi, Bharatanatyam, Manipuri, Kathakali, Kathak, Kuchipudi and Sattriya—showcased in the backdrop of the iconic Sun Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While classical dance artists from across the country put up mesmerising performances on stage, the festival also extends on to include a display of the state’s delectable, archetypal cuisines. A Crafts Mela—which exhibits some of the finest hand-crafted sculptures and looms—is also a part of the five-day long festival. And for history geeks, a quick guided tour around the Sun Temple, is enough to whet your appetite for stories of the ancient India.

 

Marvel at Kabuki performers and fireworks

December 2–3 | Chichibu, Japan—An easy 90-minute train ride from Tokyo, Chichibu—an idyllic getaway from Japan’s buzzing capital city—comes alive with the Chichibu Night Festival. Sip on warm amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink) and watch Kabuki players perform on floats decorated with paper lanterns, gilded woodcarvings, and intricate tapestries. A two-hour firework show lights up the sky after the parade.

 

Feel the holiday spirit in Finland

Visitors can cross a latitude at Santa Claus Village—it’s located at the Arctic Circle. Photo Courtesy: VisitFinland

December 6–22 | Helsinki, Finland—The Helsinki Christmas Market—Finland’s oldest and largest holiday event—engages all the senses. Nibble on freshly baked korvapuustit (Finnish cinnamon rolls) and sip a cup of glögi (mulled wine), listen to music, see a riot of colourful decorations, and browse shops for handcrafted gifts. Weekends bring crowds, but it’s also the only time to take photos with Santa. Bonus: Head to Finnish Lapland to meet reindeers, and cross the Artic Circle at Rovaniemi, home to Santa Claus.

 

Chase away evil spirits

December 7 | Antigua Guatelama, Guatemala—Each December 7 at 6 p.m., locals in this small town in southern Guatemala kick off the Christmas season by dousing an effigy of the devil in gasoline and setting it ablaze. Historically, La Quema del Diablo (or Burning of the Devil) was a way for Guatemalans to incinerate piles of trash from the previous year in a symbolic cleansing of the home before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. These days, residents celebrate the devil’s fiery demise in the city streets with firecrackers and traditional foods.

 

Wish upon a shooting star

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Catch the Geminids Meteor Shower that bring hundreds of meteors streaking across the night sky in the world’s first dark-sky reserve—Parc National du Mont Mégantic. Photo by: Genevieve de Messieres/ shutterstock

December 13–14 | Québec, Canada—Make a wish (or two!) as the Geminids Meteor Shower, one of the season’s most spectacular celestial events, brings hundreds of meteors streaking across the night sky. Spend the day exploring Parc National du Mont Mégantic—the world’s first dark-sky reserve—via hiking trails, climbing paths, and ski slopes before settling in at camp to watch the sky come alive at around 2 a.m.

 

Discover Music in a Rajasthani Mahal in Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields Festival transforms the stately and otherwise quiet, Alsisar Mahal into a neon-lit venue with elaborate stages and funky installations. Photo courtesy: Magnetic Fields/Facebook

December 13-15 |  Alsisar, Rajasthan—A holy spot for the seasoned music-lover, the annual Magnetic Fields festival allows for the discovery of new, eclectic music from across the world in a 17th-century Rajasthani fort-turned-luxury hotel. Multiple stages will span the festival, with crowd-pullers like Black Madonna, Hunee, Natasha Diggs, Kohra and SickFlip jazzing up the line-up. A break from the music comes in the form of scrumptious meals at the many stalls set up across the venue and night-stays in tents under the starry skies.

  • Sanjana Ray is that unwarranted tour guide people groan about on trips. When she isn't geeking out on travel and history, she can be found walking around the streets, crying for Bengali food. She is Digital Writer at National Geographic Traveller India.

  • Starlight Williams is an editorial researcher and writer at National Geographic.

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