Growing up, I never had a Christmas morning in my own house. Every year, my younger brother and I listened for Santa's sleighbells in my grandparent's guest room and woke up to the early-morning ringing of their, in hindsight, rather noisy grandfather clock, urging us to come downstairs and rip into our gifts.
I loved everything about these holidays: my grandmother's magazine-perfect decorations, the formal meals where I could listen in on the adults' gossip, the needlepoint stockings my grandmother made by hand, my grandfather's traditional driving tours of their quaint town after the presents were opened. To me, it felt magical, so I was surprised when my mom recently expressed regret that she hadn't kept us home for Christmas morning. It's true that I'm still more attached to my grandparents' old house than to my own parents', where I lived from 12 to 18 and still regularly visit with my own kids. Could it be that all those holidays made the former feel more like home than the one I actually grew up in?
Since becoming a mom five Christmases ago, I've thought a lot about where my new family should wake up on Christmas day. For the last decade or so, my parents, brother, and I have spent it on vacation together in Florida, where we exchange a few small gifts and head to the beach for the rest of the day (heaven for me, but not exactly the Winter wonderland most people imagine for the holiday).
When my daughter was younger, it was easy to justify keeping up the tradition, but now that she's more aware of Santa's presents, stockings, the tree — all of which get abbreviated, if not completely eliminated on our vacation — I'm wondering if I should be giving her and her younger brother a more conventional Christmas experience. After all, at home, a white Christmas is more than likely, and I wouldn't have to worry about shipping Santa's gifts south in advance, then praying they arrive on time and with wrapping intact.
Talking to mom friends, it seems I'm not the only one who struggles with whether Christmas should be a home or away game. One friend told me her husband insists they spend Christmas at home with their three young girls, but she misses waking up with her larger extended family. Other moms tell me they've delayed or cancelled holiday vacations in order to spend the big day at home, but feel like their much-needed vacations are shortchanged and the stress of planning a holiday at home combined with preparing to travel shortly after is overwhelming.
I can see the benefits both in celebrating Christmas at home and away from it. I love that traveling for the holiday forces me to get everything done early (as I write this, all my shopping is done and Santa's gifts are wrapped and ready), so that when we arrive in Florida, I can immediately start enjoying the holiday instead of just preparing for it. Yet, as my kids (now 22 months and 4.5 years old) get older, I can imagine how special it would be to have them all to myself on Christmas morning and how nice it would be not to have to consider size, weight, and general ship-ability when buying Santa gifts.
The truth is that children are probably the most adaptable creatures on the planet, and any Christmas spent with their parents will most likely feel like a great one, even if the only tree they see is a palm located outside a beach-front condo.