This past Christmas we celebrated the holidays in my parents’ typical fashion…at an all-inclusive beach resort in Mexico.
Since my siblings and I reached our mid-20s several years ago (yikes), my parents have completely given up celebrating Christmas in the traditional sense. No more Christmas tree, no decorations hanging outside or around the house, no special Christmas dinner, no Christmas shopping. Instead, they have come up with a different tradition: traveling to a warm and sunny location in the tropics, preferably by the beach and a golf course. Considering we’re all grown up and out of the house, and that my parents have extra days off during the holidays when their business is closed (not to mention the fact that Indiana gets so freakin’ cold and dreary before the holiday season even hits), it kind of makes sense. And so, for the past 15 years or so, that’s how they’ve celebrated Christmas.
One year they traveled to Hawaii, one time they went on a Caribbean cruise, and a few times they’ve gone Mexico and various islands in the Caribbean. They even came to Tucson three years ago to celebrate our son’s first Christmas. However, contrary to popular belief, Arizona is not a blazing inferno yearround. It actually does get chilly in December and January (highs in the 60s, sometimes in the 50s and even the 40s like last week!). When my parents realized that Tucson at Christmastime doesn’t sufficiently thaw them out from the harsh Indiana cold, they opted for warmer climates, which meant going further south than Florida or Arizona (i.e. outside U.S. borders). This year they chose Riviera Maya in Mexico.
Initially my husband and I vetoed the idea to meet them there because traveling with kids, especially young kids to international destinations, is a real pain in the neck (more about that in the next entry). However, my parents desperately wanted to see their grandchildren, whom they hadn’t seen in a few months. And since it was their turn to travel (last time we had seen them, we all flew Indiana), they offered to pay for our trip, including our flights to Cancun and a week’s stay at an all-inclusive beach resort (very generous, I know).
So our Christmas Eve and Day were spent on the beach. Don’t get me wrong – it was a gorgeous beach with fine, white sand and beautiful crystalline blue waters. However, despite the fact that I was with my entire family, it didn’t feel like Christmas. The resort attempted to make things Christmas-y for their gringo tourists, with a humongous Christmas tree in the lobby, Christmas music playing throughout the resort, and a holiday-style buffet. Although the resort look more festive, it didn’t successfully achieve the Christmas feel. I guess the Christmas spirit comes from being at home with family and time-honored traditions (and cold weather, perhaps), not when it’s artificially concocted by a monstrous corporate entity (as our resort was).
Before having children, I hadn’t felt the Christmas spirit in years, not since maybe college. Toward my adulthood, Christmas became more of a nuisance than a time for celebration. I don’t even remember coming home for Christmas while I lived in Boston after college because I was too poor to travel during the peak season. I remember one year I waited tables on Christmas Eve and the next day, two fellow servers and I volunteered at a homeless shelter. Then there were those years when I was abroad and in places where they didn’t even celebrate Christmas. During those years I was aware that it was Christmas but didn’t do anything special in honor of it.
Despite the 10 or so non-Christmases I had in my life, I actually have great memories of Christmas when I was a kid. And now that I have young kids myself, I would like to create wonderful memories of Christmas for them. Part of the fun in having kids is reliving your childhood through their eyes and recreating traditions while starting new ones with them. We already have started some traditions for the holiday season – watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special on tv while drinking hot chocolate, decorating the Christmas tree, seeing the Christmas lights at Winterhaven (a neighborhood in Tucson that is famous for its Christmas decorations), baking cookies, etc. It’s fun for them to hear stories of Santa Clause, see the colorful blinking lights, decorate gingerbread houses, and sing “Jingle Bells” (not so fun to visit with Santa Clause…yet), and through my children, I feel the Christmas spirit returning to me. Although at one time all the music and decorations and presents seemed extraneous and wasteful and unnecessary, I realize that it all contributes to the magical and wondrous feeling that makes Christmas the best time of the year. And seeing the joy and excitement on my kids’ faces is priceless.
Next Christmas my youngest will be nearly 3 and the oldest 5, so they will start grasping the concept of Christmas. And that’s the best time to celebrate holiday traditions at home and start creating memories for them. I want my kids to see Christmas as a magical time and look forward to the holiday season each year. So sorry Mexico, we won’t be spending another Christmas with you. Maybe another time, though.