Traveling During the Holidays: Maintaining Holiday TraditionsNovember 27, 2010 No Comments
Our first Christmas trip out of town felt a bit like we were running away from home. I was a married adult with no children, and my husband and I traveled with my parents. We left our hometown in Central Florida for Williamsburg, Virginia to experience a Colonial Christmas.
Leaving home meant leaving behind every holiday tradition we had ever known. My extended family is enormous, and at the time virtually all of the relatives lived within an hour’s drive. We rotated hosting duties between several families, and at least 30 people were in attendance at each Christmas dinner. Leaving town meant that we would be entirely on our own for Christmas, away from the camaraderie (and food!) to which we were accustomed.
My immediate family had a few traditions of our own as well. One entire day was always dedicated to the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. Only the fattest, straightest, most perfect live tree would do, and we searched every lot in the surrounding area. Decorating the tree was another all-day affair. We loved to pull off huge surprises with Christmas gifts, and would often go to the mall together and then break off singly or in pairs to do our secret shopping. Once we all ended up in Sears at the same time, and each person dove behind a different clothing rack to avoid revealing what gifts we had in hand! Christmas Eve night was special as well. We saved the presents for those who did not live with us until that night, and all sat around under the tree eating Christmas cookies and drinking flavored coffee, wrapping those gifts together.
We really wanted to experience a Colonial Christmas, but we were a bit afraid of losing our traditions altogether. What would we do about a tree? Where would we eat Christmas dinner? How could we combat the inevitable loneliness?
We decided that preparation was the best defense. Our preferred lodging in Williamsburg was usually the Governors Inn, a budget property that is part of the official Colonial Williamsburg hotel collection. However, on this trip we opted for an all-suite hotel down the road instead. We wanted plenty of space to spread out and decorate, rather than feeling cramped in a single room.
We purchased tickets to several Colonial Williamsburg programs well in advance. Tickets go on sale in September, and some events sell out very quickly. We wanted to ensure that we had somewhere to go each day, rather than wandering around aimlessly.
Holiday Traditions Re-imagined
A live Christmas tree was at the top of our list, so we went looking for one as soon as we got to town. We ended up with the biggest tree our room could handle–a 6-footer with an excellent girth. My husband and father dutifully dragged that tree up the stairs to our suite. We brought some of our best Christmas ornaments from home, and made a Wal-Mart run for inexpensive ornaments to fill in the gaps. Decorating took less than half a day, but we made time for it in the schedule rather than leaving it to chance. The housekeeping staff was simultaneously amused and impressed by our tree!
We opted for a special dinner out on Christmas Eve, rather than staying in the room. The Yuletide Supper was an elegant meal highlighted by musical performances, but our biggest surprise was the collection of dishes. All foods served were popular during the Colonial period, but barely recognizable as a holiday meal today.
We had a long-standing tradition of rotating “big Christmas” years. The person whose turn it was would receive a bigger or more expensive present than usual. Before the trip, we decided that the trip itself served as a “big Christmas” for all of us. Instead of spending a lot of money on gifts, we set a dollar limit and made a game out of seeing how many Colonial gifts we could buy each person for that amount of money. We still got to sneak around and search for surprises, but they were small things like a wooden whistle or a book about the area, rather than high-priced things from the mall.
What We Missed
The entire trip went exceptionally smoothly, with one glaring exception. We booked things to do every day except Christmas Day. We wanted the schedule to be loose that day, allowing us to take things in at our leisure. That would have been perfect, except that we didn’t count on the sheer number of tourists. We were unable to find space at any of the taverns or nearby restaurants for Christmas dinner! We ended up eating wings and salads at the hotel sports bar! It was kind of fun, though, and certainly didn’t ruin our holiday.
What We Learned
We discovered that we really enjoyed traveling over the holidays. We called the family on Christmas afternoon, and our relatives got a kick out of passing the phone around so everyone could speak with us. We were able to maintain our holiday traditions, albeit in a different format. The trip went so well that we did it again and again, traveling to a different place each time.
My mom is gone now, and I am divorced. My father and I live together in an RV, and RV traveling is our way of life. The extended family is scattered over several states, and getting together for the holidays is a rare experience. Dad and I are constantly reinventing our holiday traditions, getting together with others at whatever RV park or hostel we happen to be at. We have learned that a small artificial tree fits well on the table outside the RV, and we have learned that online stores deliver packages as General Delivery to post offices nearby. The RV kitchen or hotel kitchenette allows us to prepare certain favorite dishes, and we enjoy trying out the local cuisine in various places. But most of all, we have learned to book dinner on Christmas Day well in advance!