Have I mentioned before that I love Christmas? The music, the food, the decorations, just the overall coziness of Christmas makes it by far my favourite holiday. I remember as a child being baffled by the classic Charlie Brown Christmas movie. How could a kid not like Christmas? How could a bit of commercialism ruin the best holiday of the year?
To be honest, my love of Christmas was probably in part because I came from a somewhat frugal and conservative background and Christmas was the one time of year when my parents actually loosened up and became almost, dare I say, extravagant. Suddenly there were treats all over the house, not just one or two but as many as I wanted. Instead of a flat out, “No” my requests for new toys were met with “We’ll see” or “Put it on your list.” Pretty exciting stuff for a little kid.
Even as an adult, the thrill of Christmas never really wore off for me. Sure, the Christmas season became a little less exhilarating and a little more exhausting. Christmas became more about buying presents than receiving them. When I became a nurse the idea of spending Christmas morning handing out medications and changing bandages took a bit of the shine off the day. But there was still plenty to enjoy.
One thing I have noticed, though, is that my love of travel and my love of Christmas have rarely intersected. One factor is that Christmas is often the most expensive time to travel and before I married a teacher I had lots of other options when choosing my travel dates. Another factor is that Christmas was always a lucrative time to be a nurse; with three double or triple pay days in one week and lots of nurses wanting time off. Before I had kids I worked pretty much every Christmas day and celebrated with my family the day before or after. I even did this one year when my kids were toddlers. We did the whole stocking and presents and “hooray, Santa came!” thing on the 24th, then I went off to work the next day. My husband said that his Christmas Day that year felt very surreal.
While I didn’t always spend Christmas Day in my own home, in my pre-family days I can only think of two years that I was actually away from home for the holidays. The first was a family trip to Disneyland when I was in grade eight. It was also our family’s first “flying and hotel” vacation after many years of camping and roadtrips. We were a bit old for Disneyland at 13 and 14 years of age but in hindsight I realize that since it was the year after my mom returned to work after 14 year as a stay at home mom it was probably my parents’ first chance to splurge a bit on a real family holiday at Christmas and they really wanted to do something special.
Still, after all those years of doing the same thing every year at Christmas, being away for the holidays felt a bit awkward. We enjoyed it, and appreciated the opportunity to go, but having Christmas dinner at Denny’s and returning to a cramped hotel room seemed a bit underwhelming after being used to feasting on my mom’s amazing turkey dinner and lounging around the living room with Christmas carols, familiar decorations and all the treats we could eat.
My other Christmas away from home was the year I travelled around the world and ended up staying with my childhood best friend and her husband in New Zealand over the holidays. It was a lot of fun, but I never got used to having Christmas in summer and seeing swimwear and patio furniture on sale amongst the Christmas decorations. My friend’s place of work had a Christmas party and when Santa arrived to visit the kids they shouted, “Santa came from the South Pole!”
I was at the end of my funds at that point in my travels and my friend was scraping by as a student so it was by far my most frugal Christmas ever. My mom had sent a bit of money for a gift and I got what I really wanted: a brand new fluffy towel to replace my straggly travel towel. We had no money for other gifts so for fun we wrapped the groceries. “Bananas? For me? You shouldn’t have!” and “Cheese? Just what I always wanted!” It’s great to have friends that can even have fun with being broke, not that I’d want to go back to those days.
While I haven’t always spent Christmas Day itself in my own home, until recently I’ve rarely actually been away from Christmas. Getting married brought a few changes of course. We decided early on that we would spend every second Christmas in Edmonton with my husband’s family. It was this decision that saw us packing up our oldest child for her first flight at only five weeks of age. I remember being a typical first time mom, packing way too much and paranoid about everything. I was so worried about how the freezing prairie temperatures would affect my precious newborn that I had her so wrapped up in layers of clothes that she couldn’t even move. She looked like baby Maggie from the Simpson’s in her starfish sleeper.
I don’t really have any memories of that first trip with our daughter besides feeding her constantly. Actually that pretty much sums up my memories of the first three months of her life. At the time I remember wondering if there was any point to going to all the hassle of travelling with kids if you couldn’t really do anything once you got there. Looking back I’m glad we started travelling with her right off the bat, though. Once you’ve travelled with newborns it all just gets easier from there!
Since then we’ve always either spent Christmas at home or in Edmonton. We do pretty much the same thing every year and I know the kids love Christmas as much as I did as a kid and look forward to our family traditions. So I’m a little nervous about what’s going to happen this year when we change it all up. We’ve put up the tree and done everything like usual this year so far, but in one week we’ll be leaving it all behind and heading off to Europe to spend Christmas itself amongst the Christmas traditions of Bavaria, Salzburg and Alsace. Will it be totally different? Of course. Will the kids love it or resent us for dragging them away from home?
But the tickets are bought, the hotels are booked and in seven days we’ll be jetting off to another continent for Christmas. It may be a one time thing or it may be the start of a new family tradition. Only time will tell.