From gathering for a braai in the South African summer sun to exploring beautifully decorated Alpine villages in Switzerland, each of our destinations has its own festive traditions but a common theme uniting them all is getting together with loved food, sharing delicious food, and ensuring plenty of joy and laughter. Our Virgin Limited Edition on-property teams share their favourite ways to celebrate.
While opening presents requires a little more patience in Mallorca, with gifts commonly handed out on the 6th January for Three Kings’ Days – a day which is also celebrated with parades in towns and villages across the island - the festivities start much sooner. Friends and families gather for fiestas tucking into delectable dishes such into ‘Sopa de Navidad’ – a hearty chicken broth with minced meat pasta parcels, parsley and garlic – while after Midnight Mass everyone comes together to enjoy steaming cups of hot chocolate accompanied by ‘ensaimadas’, Mallorca’s iconic sweet flaky pastries.
Mallorcans ring in the New Year with the ‘eating of the grapes’ tradition, eating 12 grapes in the 12 seconds just before midnight. Said to bring good luck, everyone gathers for the countdown, grapes at the ready for what is a rather unique and entertaining way of seeing in the new year.
Festive Fairy Tales in Switzerland
With its snow-capped mountain and picture-perfect Alpine villages, celebrating the festive season in Switzerland feels like stepping inside a veritable winter wonderland. A beautiful Swiss custom, especially in the smaller towns and villages, are the advent windows. Twenty-four residents are chosen to each decorate one of their windows in a festive theme, unveiling a window one day at a time by opening the shutter with villagers gathering to watch, creating a life size advent calendar.
Candle dipping is a popular Swiss pastime in the lead up to the festive period with dedicated spaces set up for people to make their own candles by dipping wicks into tubs of molten bees’ wax. Paid for by the weight, proceeds are often donated to charity.
Food of course also plays a big part in the festivities, with friends and families gathering across the nation to feast on ham and scalloped potatoes and, of course, fondue.
A snowy Verbier
Kenyan Festive Feasts
As in many other nations around the world, the festive season is a time for Kenyans to see their families. Houses are adorned beautifully with flowers; green leaves, ribbons and paper decorations and some families will come together to decorate a cypress tree before sitting down for ‘nyama choma’, meaning barbecued meat in Swahili. Kenya’s unofficial dish and always eaten with the hands, the meat is usually slow roasted goat or beef, served with side dishes such as ugali, a polenta-like dish, and kachumbari, a fresh tomato, onion, and chilli pepper salad and washed down with copious amounts of local beer.
Sunny South African Celebrations
With wildflowers in bloom and summer in full swing, the South Africans spend much of their time celebrating outdoors, basking in glorious sunshine, and firing up the coals to swap indoor formal gatherings for braais (barbecues). From turkey, beef, seafood or ‘boerewors’, South Africans take pride in their braai skills and will spend hours ensuring everything is cooked to perfection. Yellow rice and raisins; potato bakes; sambals and plenty of seasonal vegetables while dessert is often Malva Pudding, an indulgent sweet spongey pudding drenched in a creamy sauce and served with ice cream.
Tropical Festivities in the British Virgin Islands
While there may not be snow or sleigh rides, the British Virgin Islands know how to celebrate the festive season. Carollers will go from house to house, serenading the neighbourhood while sharing guavaberry rum – a potent and flavourful liqueur infused with spices and citrus peel. Crème Punch made with eggs, milk, and copious amounts of rum, is another popular seasonal tipple while those seeking out something a little less strong should try sorrel tea. With its beautiful red colour and sweet crisp taste, this drink made from the outer leaves of the hibiscus flower is festive favourite.
A cross between a rich bread and a dessert, sweet bread is a staple over the holidays. Dried fruits such as prunes, raisins and currants steeped in rum or brandy – often for several weeks or even months, spices such as cloves, mace; nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom are combined with the yeast dough while candied red and green cherries are laid out on the dough to make a beautiful pattern.
Celebrate New Year in true Berber-style
While many Moroccans widely celebrate the new year on 1st January, the Berber (or Amazigh) community marks Yennayer – the first day of the agrarian calendar the ancient Berbers used the throughout North Africa – on 12th January. Often called the Amazigh New Year, it’s a time for celebrating with family and friends, sharing wishes for longevity and prosperity.
Collective dinners feasting on traditional dishes such as Irkmen, a thick soup with fava beans and wheat; couscous with seven vegetables and Tagola, a delicious concoction of corn kernels prepared with butter; ghee, honey and argan oil. Often a piece of almond or a seed of a date is hidden in the dish and whoever find this is said to be blessed throughout the year. Sometimes this person will also be entrusted with the keys to the ‘lakzhzin’, the family’s food storage room.
A joyful celebration, Berber villages also host Yennayer parades, with people of all ages dancing to traditional music and carrying the green, yellow, and blue of the Amazigh flag.