“Why do we keep schlepping over to the East Coast during the worst time of the year when we’re no longer the main attraction?” I grumbled to my husband, Anthony.
Our flight was delayed. Again. I grew up in Northern California and moved down to Southern California for school, where I stayed and met and married my husband. His family, however, is from New Jersey, where weather dictates all your winter travel plans. I experienced none of this on the West Coast, and always forgot Mother Nature loved to delay airplanes with snowstorms.
Before we were married, Anthony and I individually went to our parents’ houses for the holidays. It was expected, and it was still fun — siblings all together hanging out, going to our old haunts, and running into high school friends.
Once Anthony and I were more serious and moved in together, it only made sense for us to alternate winter trips — we’d see my family one Christmas, his family the next.
His family is Italian, bigger, and boisterous. Cousins and aunts and uncles, and non-blood related friends who were also called cousins and aunts and uncles would come over, and we’d play, make jokes, tell stories, yell in Italian, and eat Mamma Nina’s amazing Feast of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve dinner that she and her daughter Maria cooked for all 20 of us. These were my favorite Christmases, being around such a big, loud, loving famiglia. I was 27, Anthony 30, and we have so many happy memories of this time, including witnessing the surprise marriage proposal to which his sister said yes. It was the best of times!
But as my husband and I grew older, so did the cousins. They grew up, got married, and created families of their own — having to also alternate years themselves, or just having to skip seeing us altogether, as their tradition with Santa Claus trumped a not-by-blood cousin’s visit.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” I told Anthony.
"The flights are overpriced, overbooked, and delayed, and we always get sick our first few days.”
“We have to visit my family,” Anthony said, confused.
“We do! But let’s do it when there are things to do — when the mini-golf place is actually open, when there are leaves on the trees, when there’s no black ice on the road!”
Anthony and I don’t have children, and he was almost 40. The Christmas travel was taking more and more tolls on our bodies, and we were getting grumpier every year.
I decided to stop visiting for Christmas because it was a huge hassle that didn’t have enough payoff.
His mother was not happy about it. And his sister was also hurt. But our first year off from Christmas, we flew over at the end of April for his mom’s birthday. Instead of white blankets of snow and icicles, we saw his mom’s flowering tomato plants, and a red-breasted robin feeding its babies worms in its nest on their porch. Mamma wasn’t busy in the kitchen for two days straight preparing an epic meal; she was the focus of our entire trip.
We were all able to go out and explore the town, the season, and help around the house while fawning over his mother. At the end of the week, his mother agreed that coming when it was less hectic was actually more fun for her as well, as she got to spend more time with us, instead of running around last minute, catering to so many
The following time, we went for his sister’s birthday, which is near Halloween. And we got to see the changing leaves, feel the brisk air, and accompany our niece trick-or-treating.
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Everyone is far more relaxed, no one is worried about last-minute gifts or dinner guests coming or canceling last minute, and the cousins are actually able to make time to see us with their kids. The kids are excited to see us, not overstimulated and tired.
And best of all, we get to decide how to celebrate our own Christmas, making our own traditions, staying in our own town to see the decorations and festivities.
My husband and I get to relax, visit our friends who are still in town, and be together on our own terms.
And when we visit family on their birthdays, instead of the birth of Jesus, they are the celebrated ones.
We no longer visit our family on the holidays. We, and our entire family, are so much happier for it. And I highly recommend it to everyone else.