When You Won’t Be Home for Christmas

By on November 26, 2012

Raising children means change—isn’t your middle name flexible? But when it comes to holiday traditions and customs obstinate might substitute. But we’ve always had the holidays here–that’s the way we do it! A logical response when grandma wants you to travel across the country with your four children. But then one day your empty-nest life is confirmed–the kids are now calling you and saying they just can’t get away. It’s your turn to travel. Change springs eternal.

Once you get your head around it, it’s no big deal. But sometimes snowfalls and melodies bring back those old emotions and you want the same old traditions to remain right here at home. You struggle for a sensible balance. Actually there is one.

When we moved from Chicago to Iowa, we lost the chance to celebrate Christmas at home. Family was scattered throughout the USA and despite the over the river and through the woods feeling that Iowa has, there was no way we could lure family to us. No Christmas brunch around our tree, no turkey in the oven. We would be traveling at Christmas. And a decade of doing so now makes me somewhat of an authority. Have a question about Fed-EX or postage rates, packing for four, finding economical lodging—I have answers. No regrets. I got on with it.

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Now it’s you going to Disney World for a vacation, or to Maine because your sister needs you, or flying to be with grandpa. Here are some tips to help you enjoy the holidays at home before going on the road.


  • put up an artificial tree; this allows you to decorate on your own schedule and enjoy the season in your own home before you’re off and traveling.
  • limit your decorating; garnish your tree, a mantel, and one or two rooms where you spend lots of time; free yourself from the competition of outside lighting by spotlighting the front door and adorning it with your favorite wreath; note to empty-nesters—whittle down your supply of decorations, keeping those that are precious to you. Box up the best of the rest for your children so that they can decorate their homes with memories of their childhood holidays.
  • keep your focus simple; if this change is going to be routine, spend your money on a few outstanding decorations—a carved angel, a ceramic tree, needlepoint stockings bearing your children’s names, a must-have Santa Claus—things you will grow to cherish.
  • decorate your car; I love seeing a sporty sedan or a soccer mom SUV adorned with a wreath. If you drive, your décor travels with you.
  • purchase holiday clothing; maybe it’s just pj’s, but buy something for everyone in the family that highlights you’re celebrating the season!

Buying and wrapping gifts:

  • limit what you bring with you; hauling presents via car isn’t too bad, any other way is a nightmare. TSA will not let you carry wrapped gifts on board. My son-in-law used his golf club bag, packing it with all their gifts—a great idea.
  • send things ahead; this is your best option. My brother sends most of his gifts ahead to one address. When he arrives he buys a roll of white shelf paper and colored markers and creatively labels each gift.
  • shop the Internet; food and drink, fresh aromatic greens, and every kind of modern gadget that exists are there for your choosing. You can pay extra for wrapping and the purchase will be labeled and shipped.
  • other ideas; my friend Linda doesn’t have time to shop in December, so when she finally travels to be with family, she wraps up photos of the gifts she will send after the holidays when she has more time. Sue brings just a small gift for each family member, often an ornament or a photograph. And Jane has created a special night when she and her husband exchange gifts before they travel.


  • do your own thing; if having seasonal sweets in the house is the essence of Christmas for your family, spend some time preparing your special cranberry bread or gingerbread cookies. Consumable gifts are perfect for many on your list. However, if traveling gives you the excuse you need to steer clear of the baking pans, great! Start a new tradition—use the time to see a concert or holiday play or take a walk in the snow. At some point during your holiday you might find yourself cutting out sugar cookies with your grandchildren or helping your mother frost a Yule log, and that will be your best baking experience of the season.


  • host a holiday get-together; your traditions are in flux, but you might prepare a holiday meal for your friends before you leave. You can use your Christmas china and show off your tree. A small ornament gift exchange or a large holiday open house is a good idea. Let your friends each bring something so your departure plans can still proceed smoothly. Keep in mind, you may be creating a new tradition!

Christmas cards:

  • send out a Christmas photo; traveling makes this ritual even more attractive–family and friends you won’t be seeing can still share your Christmas home when your card has a photo of your tree or mantel.
  • take photos of your home with your smart phone; bring photos so you can continue to share some of your traditions;
  • post Christmas photos on your Facebook page; just because you are no longer geographically close to some of your friends and family doesn’t mean you can’t share your holiday life with them.

Though traveling at the holidays has its stresses, they are outweighed by the hours of relaxation–the time you will spend sitting by the fire with your parents and children, or enjoying a different climate, or watching your grandchildren’s eyes light up as they open your gifts. And when you come home, it will only take a few hours to pack away the tree and your carefully chosen decorations.

A fresh wreath on your front door speaks the season and in colder climates lasts a long time.

If this article was helpful to you, please share it with someone.

About Beth Havey

Beth Havey is a Boomer, member of the sandwich generation, passionate about health and the snags in the fabric of life that affect our children and grandchildren. Help me slow life down on BOOMER HIGHWAY www.boomerhighway.org. Be sure to stop and to chat with her.

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When You Won’t Be Home for Christmas