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Holiday Traditions

Families at Home and on the Go

It’s over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go…or not.

Traveling with kids in tow can be tricky any time of the year, but over Thanksgiving the stakes are even higher. Let’s face it, travel time and traffic figure significantly into the overall holiday enjoyment quotient. Parents might find themselves asking, should we stay or should we go?

According to the Travel Industry Association (TIA), the top four reasons given for visiting family over the holidays include: creating memories; maintaining traditions; reconnecting and building relationships; and improving your sense of overall well-being.

The TIA also reports that women value the benefits of holiday travel more than men. Some 77 percent of women believe that being with family and friends over the holidays creates memories, compared with 50 percent for men.

Parents with young children appreciate others coming to see them. Sixty-four percent report that the time and money family and friends spend to travel to visit them is part of their gift — add to that, the gift of not having to pack up presents and gear for a road trip.

If you’ve been thinking about taking to the highways or skyways over the fall and winter holidays, first, examine the stress level that travel may put on your family. Is it worth it? If not, contact your extended family members early to let them know of your decision to stay home. Explain that you want to try something different this Year. You might suggest another time to visit – perhaps a few weeks before or after the actual holiday.

You might encounter disappointment or even guilt tactics to get you to change your mind, so stand firm with your own plans to stay home and invite relatives and friends to visit you.

Then, relax and remember: Whatever decision you make is the right one for your family, so take it easy on yourself and enjoy the holiday season.

It’s an age-old dilemma: whether to spend your holidays traveling to continue established traditions, or stay at home to begin your own family traditions. Sarah Doerfler’s family of Henrico, with their children ages 4, 5, and 7, have worked out a creative solution. They get together with the husband’s extended family on Thanksgiving, and then since everyone is there already, celebrate Christmas with them the following day, on Friday

“We call it our ‘Thanksmas,’” Doerfler says.

They do it up as if it were Christmas Day. Her husband’s parents decorate the house and put up a tree, and the entire Family sings Christmas carols together and exchanges gifts.

“But I can’t imagine not going to my parents’ home in Illinois for Christmas, even with the 13-hour drive in one day,” she continues. It is a large gathering, with the Doerflers and their three children, her parents, and her sister’s family with their three boys. “We all stay at my parents’ house and it’s crazy, but it’s fun.”

Doerfler says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Sometimes I think it would be nice to stay in our own house and build traditions with our own children, but I know we would miss seeing the family and the chaos. For us, it’s about family.”

Carol Martin, mother of three, ages 10, 14, and 24, says her family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. “We have a ‘non-Thanksgiving’ since my husband is Native American,” she says. They still get together with family, but without the usual pressures, enjoying beef, chicken or pizza instead of turkey and all the trimmings.

When Martin was a child her mother wanted to spend all holidays with her own family in North Carolina, so the family traveled a lot. “That’s why I don’t want to travel as an adult,” she says. Instead, Martin invites both sets of parents, who live locally, to her home for Christmas.

“It enriches our lives because we get to enjoy the holidays; there’s not a lot Of rushing around. The children have a leisurely day in their pajamas and a late breakfast at a time that suits us.”

The Martins’ special tradition is serving birthday cake on Christmas Day. “It is Jesus’ birthday and the kids can relate to the cake as celebrating someone’s birthday. So no matter what else we do, we have birthday cake to remember what the day is for.”

Combining travel with tradition, Allen Bancroft’s family of Chesterfield has always stayed home on Christmas Day, then traveled the following day to visit relatives in the Northeast. This year, because of the economy, a change in job status and an elderly dog, they have elected to stay home.

“When you travel on the holidays you spend a day in the car each way, and a trip that normally takes us seven hours drags into 14 because of the traffic. That takes the fun out of it,” Bancroft explains. “There was a time we’d feel guilty not going to see the family, but now we invite them informally to come here.”

A third alternative to staying home or visiting family is a family trip. Now that the Bancrofts’ children are older, ages 10 and 15, the family often travels over the long Thanksgiving weekend to destinations like Walt Disney World and Great Wolf Lodge.

Travel consultant Doug Floyd of Travel Leaders in Richmond, says some families travel abroad or take multigenerational cruises together over the holidays. On cruises, children’s programs keep young ones busy while parents and older relatives relax.

“The trend we see is that most people travel to spend Thanksgiving together as a family and stay at home for the December holidays,” Floyd says.

In response to current economic conditions, travel bookings are down. “I am seeing deals that are normally 75 percent to 100 percent higher in normal economic times, with plenty of spaces still available,” Floyd continues. “Normally things would have been booked up by now.” Popular destinations abroad include Italy, France and river cruises to the German Christmas markets. Here at home, Charleston, South Carolina, Hawaii, New York City, and Walt Disney World are holiday travel favorites for families around Thanksgiving.

Floyd also recommends using a travel service and considering travel insurance during uncertain economic times when job status might suddenly change.

Linda Barrett of Henrico is a freelance photojournalist.
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