Before kids, Christmas was a nightmare, and not in a cute Jack Skellington way. We spent the week before and Christmas Eve at my parents’ house, approximately nine hours from our home. Then on Christmas morning, we rushed five-and-half hours down the interstate to my husband’s parents. We were expected to arrive in time for Christmas dinner, around 3 p.m. There we stayed a week before motoring another five hours back home. We’d find our tree a desiccated fire hazard. Our car was inevitably stuffed to the roof with presents to unload — a blessing, but an unloading nightmare. So when we had kids, I issued an ultimatum: There would be no Christmas traveling. It was just too much.
It helped that our first son made his appearance five days before the big date, so no one expected anything of us. By the time he was 1, the pressure was on. Our presence was expected. But I stood strong: No way were we traveling for Christmas. And I’ve stood strong every year since.
Our children deserve their own unique Christmas traditions. Yes, I’m sad they miss out on Christmas Eve dinner with their grandparents. But we have our own rituals. We do Christmas with close friends who have kids about the same age as ours (we invite our parents, but they're too tied up in their own holiday celebrations to come). Every year, one family buys all the kids matching pajamas. They wear them to one house or the other (we alternate), and everyone opens presents together. Because someone’s hauling presents all the way across town, the number of them tends to be blessedly smaller. Our son’s godparents join us. We all eat candied bacon and massive amounts of eggs. In the afternoon, we go for a walk or a hike. This is the Christmas our kids know, and we like it. Our boys love it. Traveling would disrupt everything.
It’s always difficult to pack for three children — one in cloth diapers — plus two adults. Add in wrapped presents for everyone, both relatives and my children. I literally don’t think I could fit everything in my car, and I have a) a minivan, b) this packing thing down to a science, and c) a car carrier. Then we’d have to make the same overstuffed journey home, with all the presents we bought for the kids, plus all the presents the relatives bought for the kids, and the relatives tend to be overly generous. It just wouldn’t fit.
Even if I could fit everyone and the stockings in the car, this odyssey would take place on a major interstate highway. Christmas driving just sucks. There’s construction, traffic delays, accidents. You pray the last doesn’t happen to you, and you’re terrified it will, because it’s the holiday season and everyone else on the road is coming from somewhere or headed somewhere else. The presence of drunk drivers goes up around the holidays. Barring major disaster, I’d have three kids under the age of 6 strapped into a minivan, crawling up the interstate, for way longer than the standard five hours to my husband’s parents’ house.
My car would be stuffed with Christmas-crazed kids, because like all kids, they go nuts around the holiday. The degree of nuts they go increases in direct proportion to the increasing proximity of December 25. This manifests itself in many ways. They constantly ask how many days till Christmas. They unceasingly point out and talk about presents they want to receive, usually large, expensive things, like remote control dinosaurs or 5-foot-tall Darth Vaders, all of which there’s no way in hell they’re getting.
It's also, obviously, a long way to go — traveling to and from family means a whole day of driving, or a whole night of driving and a day of recuperation. My husband gets more time off at the holidays than most people, but he doesn’t get that much. We’ve found we need to stay in one place at least five days for the safety of our personal sanity, so that’s a solid week: half our Christmas break. If we traveled to and from our respective parents' houses, we'd only have two or three days before my husband returned to work. That’s not a lot of time for recovery.
For us, the memories are made by being together — wherever we are. Yes, our families are our families, but what makes our Christmas special is that we're with whomever we're with and that we're happy. Are there years that we wish our parents would travel to visit us? Of course. Do we like not celebrating all together? No. But right now, it's what works for us.
Maybe if we had more time and more money, we'd travel for the holidays. Maybe if our kids weren’t so little or so Christmas-crazed. Maybe if I were a better person, with a higher tolerance for chaos. But we’ve chosen to do Christmas at our home, with our friends. So come the end of December, my butt is staying put. My minivan is staying unpacked. But the family knows: my door is always open.
Image: Anna Fox/Flickr, Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent (2)