The first time we contemplated skipping the holidays in lieu of a vacation was in the year leading up to our 10th wedding anniversary. Unwilling to take a tropical vacation in the middle of summer (summers in Minnesota are quite nice), we scoured the school calendar for an interlude of significant length and came up with Christmas break, which, in addition to being relatively close to our anniversary, is also the time of year that people in our chilly neck of the woods start casting about for a warm-weather vacation. So it was that we booked a celebratory trip to Jamaica for over the holidays. I did, however, pause to consider what it would feel like to be away from home – and in a tropical climate – on Christmas Eve and Day. I knew our plans meant we wouldn’t do any of the traditional holiday preparatory activities in the weeks before our departure – no decorating, no baking, no hauling out the Christmas dishes, and just the bare minimum of shopping. The only tradition I insisted on keeping was sending out the annual Christmas letter because, at that time in my life anyway, it was my only chance to publicly poke fun at the husband. (Now I have the blog for that.)
Before I go further, I should probably explain just how loudly (or not) my inner jingle bell rings. On the very scientific, Travel Architect-created “Love It or Leave It Scale of Christmas Enthusiasm,” (©2020. All rights reserved. Copyright infringement subject to $500,000 fine and lifetime imprisonment.) you can see where I fall. As with most things, I land wishy-washily close to the middle. I am not a Scroogy holiday dismisser, nor am I a Yuletide zealot – one of those people who starts planning and plotting next year’s Christmas on December 26th. I enjoy the run-up to the holiday and most of it’s trappings, but I also find it stressful, and I lament the over-commercialization that’s become synonymous with the season. I don’t even like decorating the house that much. I do it because I like the end result. (Of course, the dreaded post-holiday “undecorating,” a burdensome Saturday-killing chore, is much, much worse.)
Given my status as a 6/7 on the scale, it makes sense that before that first Christmastime trip I worried that I would feel sad – like something big and important was missing, like there was a gaping hole where tinsel and candy canes should be.
So how did I fare on that first non-Christmas Christmas? Just fine. No. Better than fine. I didn’t miss the holiday at all. Granted, since many, if not most Jamaicans celebrate Christmas, some hints of the holiday were unavoidable, such as a visit from Santa on the beach on Christmas morning, where I received a tree ornament (with our resort’s name emblazoned across it) while lounging with a piña colada and a beach-read. Also, some of the palm trees were festooned with holiday lights and the steel drum band played a few familiar carols one night. But that’s it. Further, I could have done without those Christmas reminders and been just fine. In fact, we loved everything about that trip so much that we returned the following year, skipping Christmas for the second time in a row!
This third “missed” Christmas was no different. Having just returned from Cambodia, I can state with conviction that a missed Christmas doesn’t have to be an occasion for sorrow. Much to my surprise, there were signs of holiday cheer in Laos and Cambodia – both heavily Buddhist countries. In Luang Prabang (Laos) we saw Santa hats for sale and “Merry Christmas” signs on buildings, along with the occasional decorated tree, and in parts of Siem Reap (Cambodia) there were so many Christmas lights it almost felt like Las Vegas. Once again, I didn’t need or want these tokens of the season, but neither did they make me feel depressed. They just… were.
What’s more, some years, as I head to the basement and brush away the cobwebs to get to the boxes of Christmas decorations, I think to myself, “Already? Didn’t I just put these things away?” At times like that, Christmas prep can feel like a chore, and when something like Christmas feels like a chore, it’s probably time to take a year off. I’m not sure I could bring myself to do that if I were at home, but leaving Christmas behind now and then for a trip abroad can be just the thing to make one look forward to the holidays again.
It’s true what they say – absence really does make the heart grow fonder. The next time we celebrate Christmas, with all our usual traditions – cookies, lights, greenery, gifts, music, holiday movies, and hopefully snow – it will feel all the more special.