© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

From New Mexico to New Zealand, a world of amazing Christmas celebrations awaits.

Taos, NM

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Why Go: This remote village on a high desert plain is especially magical at Christmas, thanks to its rich mix of cultural traditions. Not to miss: historic Ledoux Street all lit up with luminarias (paper lanterns); the ceremonial reenactments of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter, called posadas; and the dramatic American Indian Christmas Eve celebration that takes over the main square in Taos Pueblo. Plus, you can ski all day long on Christmas Day at Taos Ski Resort, 18 miles away.

Where to Stay: Near the town square, El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa features objects from around the world in its spare, elegant rooms. Book a room with a fireplace to up the cozy factor. 

Holiday Dinner: On twinkling Ledoux Street, the seven-table hideaway Byzantium offers a winter menu with dishes like shrimp ceviche and grilled pork scaloppine with apple, cabbage, and mustard-seed compote.

—Lee Magill

Taos, New Mexico

The Best Places to Spend Christmas

Taos, NM

Why Go: This remote village on a high desert plain is especially magical at Christmas, thanks to its rich mix of cultural traditions. Not to miss: historic Ledoux Street all lit up with luminarias (paper lanterns); the ceremonial reenactments of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter, called posadas; and the dramatic American Indian Christmas Eve celebration that takes over the main square in Taos Pueblo. Plus, you can ski all day long on Christmas Day at Taos Ski Resort, 18 miles away.

Where to Stay: Near the town square, El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa features objects from around the world in its spare, elegant rooms. Book a room with a fireplace to up the cozy factor. 

Holiday Dinner: On twinkling Ledoux Street, the seven-table hideaway Byzantium offers a winter menu with dishes like shrimp ceviche and grilled pork scaloppine with apple, cabbage, and mustard-seed compote.

—Lee Magill

© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

The Best Places to Spend Christmas

A girl on a donkey leads a candle-carrying procession past San Miguel de Allende’s shops festooned with piñatas and poinsettias. When they stop before a Spanish-colonial building and break into song, you realize you’re witnessing the reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter that takes place in the days leading up to Christmas.

Whether your winter holiday trip enhances your yuletide nostalgia with traditions, sparkly lights, and nippy air or makes a radical break from it—by, say, taking you to warmer climes or a quiet, far-flung hideaway—breaking the habit of staying home will always reward you with a Christmas you’ll never forget. With that goal in mind, we’ve rounded up diverse, exceptional places to get you in the spirit of taking off.

Related: Best Places to Travel in 2015

Quebec City is one of our favorite historic destinations for the holidays. The narrow cobblestoned streets and stone architecture of the walled city, founded in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain, make it as romantic and European as it gets on this side of the pond. Add to that a proclivity for snowfall and an abundance of top-notch bars and restaurants, and you may wish the New Year could be postponed.

But the appeal of warming up over the holidays is undeniable, too. For the die-hard contrarian, Kaikoura, New Zealand, ought to do the trick. It’s the height of summer there at Christmas, a holiday most often celebrated outdoors with backyard barbecues. But it’s also a great time to be hiking the rainforest of the Kaikoura mountain range or on the waters of Kaikoura Bay, one of the most biodiverse marine environments on the planet. It’s the summer home of sperm whales, fur seals, dusky dolphins, and pilot whales, and all it takes to commune with them is a boat and a bit of perseverance.

South America has weathered the global recession better than most regions, and it’s not hard to see why. Brazil in particular is peppered with off-the-beaten-track gems that offer a true escape, like the coastal Portuguese colonial town of Paraty, about 140 miles south of Rio. Its friendly locals, cerulean waters, exceptional beaches, and exotic-bird-filled jungles may make you forget what holiday it is altogether. Like we said: unforgettable.

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