Making spirits bright when you won’t be home for the holidays

3 mins read
Christmas travel

(OSV News) — It’s no longer as simple as a sleigh ride through the woods to join the whole family at grandma’s for Christmas Day. Nevertheless, many of us make a trek, sometimes several times annually, to celebrate our holidays together. These days, we battle traffic, hectic work schedules, kids’ commitments, crowded airports and icy freeways to get there.

Although we love our large gatherings and longtime traditions, leaving home for special occasions demands plenty of planning and desire. Here’s how to pull off a holiday away from home with grace — and only a few frazzled nerves.

How to prepare if you’re not hosting

Since you’re not the host/hostess, it’s easy to get complacent about preparations — and then run out of time at the end. So start early. You’ll need to shift gears and think about getting ready in a new way. Instead of cleaning the guest bedroom or planning your Christmas centerpiece, begin by prepping the car (or, as the case may be, making the airline reservations). Several weeks ahead of time, get the oil changed. If your area promises snow, put the snow tires on. Install the luggage rack. Find a few new kids’ travel trinkets to hide under your seat. Pack snacks and drinks to avoid extra costs en route.

Call your hostess to find out about your share of the cooking, but be careful what dishes you sign up for. Choose foods that travel well. If you’ve a long way to go, perishable items are out. Avoid disasters like sloshing cranberries on your dashboard (and floor mats), leafy salads that freeze in the trunk of the car — and then thaw to a limp green glop — cakes that lose the top layer in transit. Select instead easily transported Christmas breads, holiday bars and cookies, or the makings for a spectacular veggie tray. Or take the ingredients for your famous pecan-cornbread stuffing and assemble it when you arrive.

Buy and wrap gifts early, but don’t add bows and ribbons yet. Instead, pack presents snugly into boxes or an extra suitcase for protected travel. Take along bows to add later so they won’t be flattened beyond recognition when you arrive.

Strategies for parents

If Santa is part of your tradition, the kids will be wondering how St. Nick will find them if they’re gone on Christmas morning. Let them write to him with their away-from-home Christmas address. While you’re at it, tell them about other things to expect, like attending church in a new place and greeting relatives they might not remember who want to give them bear hugs.

With all the excitement and buildup, kids are bound to feel hyper. The holidays are joyous — and almost unbearably exciting — for children, and, of course, you want them to have a storybook Christmas they’ll remember forever. But having a great time and running wild are two different things.

Let the kids know what behavior you will expect of them as guests. Start talking early, so they have time to listen — several times if necessary. Let them know that grandma (or whoever the host is) will be upset if they fly their new spaceship amid her crystal lamps, or play keep away in the living room. Laughing at Uncle Albert’s warts, using the beds as trampolines, bullying younger cousins and juggling dinner rolls will all cause problems. Try to anticipate potential disasters and let everyone know the limits beforehand.

Presents and activities

A special note about presents: Be careful what you bring. A toy fire engine with a real screeching siren seems like a fun idea at the store, but in a small house packed with relatives, it will make everyone climb the walls. Likewise, new gliders and footballs are too tempting not to be thrown, at least a few times, through the sitting room filled with gray heads. New paint sets don’t mix with your hostess’ pastel carpeting. Don’t expect kids to be angels. And don’t bring potential problems to the gathering.

Plan an afternoon activity for the kids. Make sure they have the opportunity to go to the sledding hill, build a huge snowman or pile in the van for the nearest movie theater. That way they’ll have a chance to burn off some energy and have some long-remembered fun. And they’ll leave behind a little peace and quiet for those who need it.

When you’ve done all you can, simply enjoy the holiday. Remember to put your “candle” on a candlestick, not under a bushel, so it will “giveth light unto all that are in the house.” You’ve done your work well (or at least you’ve tried your best), and now you’re ready for a day of fun, family and faith.

Mary B. O’Brien and her family have regularly traveled to relatives for the holidays.

OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.