Traveling For the Holidays Helps My Family Focus on the True Meaning of the Season

My kids have never celebrated a Christmas at home. Every year, we travel from the Midwest to Florida with my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, my aunt and uncle, and a rotating cast of extended family to enjoy the holidays at the beach. I'm so grateful we're all able to make this happen every year. On Christmas morning, the only trees are the palms outside, there's no snow in sight, and all the gifts are small enough to fit in the extra suitcase I brought along for that purpose, but the spirit of the season is still strong. We're surrounded by family for an entire week.

At various points since having kids, I've debated whether I'm shortchanging them by not having a traditional Christmas at home. Earlier this year, my daughter, now 8 years old, flat out asked if we could do just that. Some serious mom guilt was my first response to her request — had I ruined all her childhood Christmas memories?! — but after some time, I decided that our travels had actually reframed for her what the holiday should truly be about. And that's quality time with family, not presents.

What she really desires is the fantasy of waking up on Christmas morning and finding a huge pile of packages under our tree. And if we were home, that's exactly what she'd get. She and her 5-year-old brother would rip through those gifts in no time and play with their toys for about half a day while their dad and I bagged ripped-up wrapping paper, searched for the right-size batteries, and made a Christmas breakfast we'd also be responsible for cleaning up. By late afternoon, most likely we would have reverted to our normal routine of staring at our individual screens, doing laundry, and wondering if our favorite pizza spot was delivering on Christmas Day.

Instead, we take our tree down long before Santa hits the skies, I ship a box of gifts a week before C-Day (that's Christmas, of course), and we hop an overpriced flight to sunnier skies. The lead-up to getting there is insanely stressful (I mean, the holidays pretty much destroy every parent I know), but the minute we step out of the baggage claim doors and let the humidity sink into our skin, it's all worth it.

That feeling is the best Christmas present in the world. The holiday stress is behind us; holiday fun has arrived. On Christmas morning at the beach, we still have stockings and presents (Santa always seems to track us down), but various relatives are there to help with cleanup, battery installation, and cooking. When the toys lose their luster after a few hours, we walk on the beach, head to the pool, or work on the huge puzzle Grandma sets up every year on her screened-in oceanfront porch. Electronic screens are an afterthought.

So I explained to my daughter that, although I'd considered her request, no, we wouldn't be celebrating Christmas at home this year. By traveling, we'd be doing something much, much better, I told her. We'd be spending more time together, and that's what the holidays should truly be about.