The Case For The ‘Just Us’ Holiday

by Wendy Wisner
Artfoliophoto / iStock

If you asked my kids what they wanted to do on Christmas morning, they would say, “Stay home all day in our pj’s and play with our new toys.”

It’s that simple, really, and for the past few Christmases, that’s just what we’ve done, with zero regrets.

It wasn’t always that way, though. Before kids, we’d spend every Christmas in Maine with extended family. It was a tradition we loved. It was nice to get away from our busy city life, and we were always guaranteed a white Christmas in Maine (starting in October, it basically snows there continuously). The family members who hosted us decorated beautifully for Christmas and were generous and lovely to be around.

But when our first child was born 10 years ago, that annual Christmas trip to Maine quickly turned from a wonderful family tradition to a nightmare of epic proportions. Our baby was a car screamer, so the trip that used to take us four hours now took us eight, because we had to stop constantly to soothe him.

Once we finally got there — as kind and accommodating as our family was — it was no picnic to be in a new place with a baby. His sleep was totally wrecked, and he was grabbing everything he wasn’t supposed to in their gorgeous but totally un-babyproofed home. I swear, his Christmas breakfast that year was pinecones and tinsel.

We thought the next year would be better. But we made that trip diligently for a few years in a row before we realized that traveling with kids during the holidays just wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

We (or really, I, because my husband hasn’t packed for anything in his entire life) would spend more days packing and unpacking than actually being at our destination. The travel never stopped being a nightmare either. The car screaming ended but the crankiness did not, and then we added a new child to the mix, and it all started over again.

And as our kids got older, they started to express a genuine desire to do all the holiday traditions in the comfort of our own home. Who could blame them, really? Aren’t most kids homebodies at heart, especially when it comes to the holidays? Don’t most of them just want to be in a cozy, familiar setting, lying around Christmas morning playing with all the toys they’ve been dreaming about for months?

So a few years ago, we put an end to our Christmas tradition. We no longer visit our family in Maine.

Let me tell you, doing something like that is not as easy as it sounds. The holidays — and how to spend them — can be a really charged issue for people. There is guilt. There is pressure. Not everyone gets your reasoning, and some are more than happy to argue with you.

Listen, it’s really freaking hard to break tradition, especially when it comes to the holidays. But ultimately, it’s OK and necessary to assert yourself in cases like these. When we were a younger family, it was harder to do, but as the years have gone by and we’ve become older and wiser, it’s been easier to establish those boundaries.

I will admit there is something really special about spending holidays with extended family, and I miss it to some extent. My children’s relationship with their aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents is something I love watching and something I want them to cherish for the rest of their lives.But there is something equally magical about spending the holidays in the privacy of your own home with your most immediate family, and that has become our norm. Honestly? I wouldn’t change it for the world.

A “just us” holiday means everyone staying up late, eating popcorn, and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street until the kids fall asleep in your arms. Then you carry them quietly to bed, collapsing with them and snuggling till morning. It means waking up on Christmas morning all together, eating leftover cookies for breakfast, and knowing you have nowhere to be, no one to please, and no one who cares if you’re wearing pants or not.

It means baking together in your pj’s and not worrying about messing up anyone else’s kitchen. It means not having to deal with 15 different personalities and all of their preferences about how holiday traditions should unfold. It means getting to enjoy all the time off from work you have, not losing any time packing or traveling, and getting to spend every lazy moment with your family.

It means less stress — with a capital “S.” Because why the heck should the holidays be about that anyway?

And yes, it sometimes means breaking traditions and maybe pissing some people off. But it also means starting traditions of your own, ones that you and your children will remember for a lifetime.

So if you feel bogged down by family obligations during the holiday season and feel that spending time at home, with just your immediate family, is what you and your kids would like best, just do it.

Cut the cord. Say good-bye. Do it your way. I can guarantee you that it will be just as magical as you imagined it would be.