As soon as the Thanksgiving day was over, we knew the Christmas prep was about to begin. It would always start with the process of setting up our artificial tree. My father took the faux wood trunk out of the box and followed the color-coded wires on the ends of each branch and placed them in the coordinating holes. Then he dutifully took string upon string of multi-colored lights and wrapped them round and round the greenery until there wasn’t a spot left without a bulb. Finally, it was our turn. We took the large cardboard container of decorations out of the basement and gently unwrapped each one; looking every ornament over and commenting on our favorites. There wasn’t a bough on our tree that did not have some shiny ball or figurine dangling from a silver fishhook.
As soon as all the ornaments were hung, we took handfuls of tinsel and literally let it rain. We climbed up on the short utility ladder my dad used to string the lights and threw handfuls of the glittery strings up in the air. We shrieked with delight as the strands covered the entire tree, each of us, and the blue pile carpet below. I thought the finished product was perfection. I would wait until it was dark outside, then click on the rotating tree stand/music box that cranked out tunes like, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Frosty the Snowman.” As it twirled slowly around, I would sip my mug of cocoa and marvel at the glittering masterpiece.
I looked forward to all the little traditions leading up to Christmas like decorating, assembling lasagnas for an army of relatives, and setting the table. Traveling was not on the agenda when I was growing up. We took vacations in the summer, so it never occurred to me that people didn’t spend the holidays at home.
When I started a family of my own, we pretty much followed many of the same traditions (although we bought a fresh tree and nixed the tinsel). That was the norm until my brother suggested that we take a trip to celebrate New Year’s Eve “2000” in the Caribbean.
A whole new concept about how to spend the holiday opened up for me that year. The week before we hosted a dinner to see everyone and exchange gifts. On December 24th, we flew away from the cold in New Jersey and landed in the Turks and Caicos where it was hot and sunny.
Our rental home was beachfront, and the white sand stretched as far as we could see. Our dinner on December 25th took place in a Caribbean restaurant called the Tiki Hut. We traveled with a large group of extended family and friends, and even though we weren’t home, we had a fantastic time. That week the weather was a perfect 80 degrees, and our two-year-old girls lived in their bathing suits and built sand castles every day.
A few years later, when our daughters were 11, we traveled with another family to share Christmas in Italy. The children made ornaments from kits my girlfriend had purchased at home and packed in her suitcase. We decorated a small tree that we set up in the living room and it created a festive atmosphere. We spent our days exploring the countryside, tasting the foods and sightseeing.
I have come to appreciate both ways of celebrating for the holidays. The case for staying home is strong. We make the special foods that we only prepare at this time of year, and relax in our own house with loved ones. But, there is something I really enjoy about experiencing Christmas in an unusual place. I know it’s not for everyone, and it may seem odd to travel, but I actually enjoy the adventure.
It has been ten years since that last trip, but we are traveling this year. We plan to visit Germany, specifically Munich, Rothenburg, and Berlin. My husband’s heritage is half Italian and half German, so we thought it would be interesting to explore the traditions of his other half. There will be Christmas markets, gluehwein (spiced hot wine) and wursts to sample. While we will miss spending the day with our extended family, we will celebrate when we return. My children are getting the opportunity to travel instead of receiving material things. They are also collecting a unique combination of experiences. They get to have memories of being home and memories of being abroad. We are blessed to be together either way, which is a priceless gift.