One of my favorite holiday songs is “Home for the Holidays” by the Carpenters. I love the shout-out to my home state, Pennsylvania, but I also love the anticipation of going home. Truly, there is no place like home.
For families today, “home” can be many places. And, families will soon hear the age-old question, “When are you coming home for the holidays?” This question, however, does not always lead to the same anticipation as inspired by the holiday song.
Planning the itinerary to visit faraway family can cause a lot of stress and strife. They want your schedule to accommodate theirs. Easy, right? In an ideal world, we would wave our magic wand and sprinkle some fairy dust to make everyone’s holiday wishes come true.
The same can be said for the holiday “extras”—the Christmas photo cards, the expertly wrapped packages, and the Pinterest-worthy decorations.
While trying to make the holidays perfect, we lose the opportunity to spend meaningful time with our family. During the holidays, family time should be the priority, but it is easy to succumb to bickering and hard feelings about the travel plans or stress over details. While there is no easy way to bypass these holiday dilemmas, taking time to consider what is important to your own family is essential.
Travel less, do more. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends—they all want a visit from you and your family during the holidays, but your own family also needs time together to make traditions. Baking cookies, watching movies, sleeping in—this is the essence of the holidays, which is more likely to occur if you pump the breaks on holiday travel. Even if you only take a few days for your own family, it is good to break the normal schedule, especially after the hectic weeks leading up to the holidays. Taking time to recharge—not travel—is good for everyone and should not feel like a guilt trip from those who are expecting a visit.
Take turns. My sister Jenn and I arrange travel plans so that we are both home in Pennsylvania for at least a few days together. Our kids love to see each other, and they reunite each and every time just as if they have been together all the while. Talking about travel plans ahead of time, and being flexible, can prevent hard feelings, and it establishes an understanding that compromise is key.
When we were a younger family, my mom always said, “Let the family come to you.” Packing infant gear is overwhelming, not to mention packing gifts during holidays. This was an easier way to avoid holiday travel to an extent, and most family members obliged. As children get older, however, there seems to be an expectation to travel because it is “easier.” This may be true, but it is nice to wake up on Christmas morning in your own home, no matter how young or old your children are. Family members should understand the give-and-take of the holidays.
Consider hosting your own open house. The itinerary to visit all of the relatives can be overwhelming, whether you stay local or travel out of town. Trying to visit too many places becomes less enjoyable when you are watching the clock to make it to the next house on the list. If you have a large family who is local, an open house can be a solution to the question, “How do we see everyone without feeling overwhelmed?” Though planning an open house may take a little more time, everyone can see you and your family in one setting. If you are traveling out of town, someone can host an open house for your family and friends to drop by. This gives you and your travel-weary family time to enjoy company as it comes and goes.
The holidays do not have to be picture perfect. Consider all of the time spent buying or making gifts, decorating, traveling, baking. You name it. Your list of “to-do’s” may end up like Santa’s list with the exception that he has hundreds of little helpers while our “little helpers” are not so efficient. Added stress from trying to make the holiday “perfect” is the last thing you want on your list. Try simplifying your holiday expectations and taking that extra time to enjoy time for yourself instead.
The holiday “day” is not the most important thing. Sometimes my family and I will visit Pennsylvania before Christmas, and sometimes after. Sometimes, we are in Pennsylvania on Christmas Day. Our travel depends on what we have done the previous year, what airfare will cost, and what traditions we are looking forward to the most.
My mom always told me that the celebration of the holiday will occur whenever we are able to come home. This may be hard for some, especially those who are very traditional. But, the holidays span beyond a single day. The joy and excitement of being together with family will be the same no matter the date. Just think of it as an extended holiday: more time for family and celebrations!
Fortunately, for us, we have only one state on our itinerary during the holidays, but I have many friends who have families in multiple states. They are always worried about who they are going to offend “this time” when they can’t make the trip home.
No matter how far you roam this holiday, making deliberate decisions about how you and your family spend your time is the first step in the right direction.
Deirdre Johns is Mom to Henry, an eight and a half-year-old lover of animals and nature. She has been teaching English for thirteen years, currently at Hilton Head Christian Academy, and has lived in the Lowcountry with her family since 2012.