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.)

Christmas pic
On years when we travel instead of celebrate, this is as Christmassy as it gets in our house.  Those gifts are from my mom.

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.)

Scale of Xmas Enthusiasm

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.

Christmas in Laos
The juxtaposition of palm trees and Christmas trees can be a little jarring when you’re used to a white Christmas.
Poinsettias
Poinsettias grow wild all over the Laos.  Who knew?

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.

32 thoughts

  1. You might be on to something here. Maybe if I skipped Christmas for a couple of years I’d appreciate it more. Though I love the idea of Christmas, I’m with you on the decorating, commercialism and general disruption it causes. Our main problem is the family traditions which some people in the group feel are written in stone. We’d be highly unpopular if we messed with the status Quo. Didn’t John Grisham write a book about this?

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    1. I’m not sure about the Grisham book (though I loved The Partner), but hard and fast traditions can be a recipe for disaster. Don’t get me wrong, traditions are good, but when people are so resistant to change and flexibility, it causes so much agony. Sometimes mixing things up is good, especially if it incorporates a little of what everyone wants and also people will see that the world won’t end if Dearly Held Tradition X is abandoned or changed from time to time.

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  2. I dunno. The fact that your Love It or Leave It Scale of Christmas Enthusiasm is written in alternating red and green makes me think you’re at least a 7.5!

    I was born in Hawaii and my dad, who was in the Air Force, had three separate tours of duty there. Christmas never really felt like Christmas to me, even when Santa showed up at Waikiki Beach in an outrigger canoe, so I am definitely closer to a 9 on your scale. In fact, I started planning for next Christmas before this Christmas was even here, so maybe I’m a 9.5.

    Glad you had a great time. Happy new year!

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  3. We’ve spent Thanksgiving several times away from home and family either at half marathons or in other countries on vacation but never Christmas. This year, however, we discussed going away for Christmas next year. I don’t think I’d miss it at all because like you said, it’s not like they don’t celebrate the holiday in other countries. I think I’d like to see how people in other countries celebrate Christmas. Anyway, we’re mulling over a few places and will see what airfare looks like and then decide sometime later in the year. Nice to hear your perspective!

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  4. I enjoy being away for Christmas. I detest the commercialism that’s starts here in the Uk in October which devalues the meaning of Christmas. The build up to and the stress of the actual day should be avoided at all costs! We manage to do this every other year when my kids are with their dad for the holidays. It’s great! As long as my mum is not on her own. My friend has saved me her turkey carcass from which I will make a delicious turkey soup- which is Christmas enough for me

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  5. I’m a big fan of the holiday spirit. I enjoy Christmas movies, songs and the build up to the big day, but I never stress myself out looking for gifts for those in my life whom I love, who often don’t need more stuff.

    People often complain about all the fuss and commercialism about Christmas yet it’s the same people who can change things around, so just stop buying junk that only adds to more long-term waste. I propose we take a minute to think about what we’re doing. Are we really doing any good for our family by getting them stuff they might not actually want or need? Its as simple as that.

    Enjoy your travels guy, can’t wait to see all the photos and hear all the stories! Aiva

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  6. Hahaha I love your Christmas scale! I find it interesting too that places like Cambodia have embraced Christmas. I spent one Christmas in Australia and it was definitely bizarre spending it on a beach in the sun. It did sort of make me appreciate a winter Christmas more! I mean it was nice, it just didn’t feel… Christmassy!

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    1. I will like baking more next year now that I’ve had a year off. Incidentally, I baked today! My New Year’s resolution is to bake something at least once per month. I’ve really gotten away from it in the last year or two.

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  7. Great post!! I have thought about traveling over Christmas a few years, but never followed thru. To be honest, I think it would be a much bigger issue for my wife than it would be for me. I think I would miss a few things, like gathering with family, Christmas movies, etc… but nothing I wouldn’t get over fairly quickly.

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  8. I’m not a huge fan of Christmas so I have wanted to go on vacation during the season for many years, rather selfishly too as my birthday is on the 23rd! You’ve given me food for thought! My niece is born on the same day so I find a sense of guilt to leave!

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    1. Other people might call that selfish, but I wouldn’t and I don’t think you should. I was just listening to a travel podcast in which a guest being interviewed said the start of her frequent traveling began when she decided she wanted to go to a new place for each birthday. Granted, I doubt her b-day was at Christmas, but it’s certainly a good excuse to go and be gone for the holidays. You could also do an “every other year” thing to assuage the guilt. And/or take your niece along! 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

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      1. The first year I went to New Orleans. I wouldn’t recommend Nola for Christmas. There are a ton of families in the French Quarter (not the quarter I’m used to!) and it’s a much different vibe. It’s also impossible to get into a restaurant without reservations. The past three years we’ve gone to the same all-inclusive resort in Cancun (Paradisus Cancun, Royal Service). It’s fantastic. I’m lobbying for a Christmas in Munich for 2020. 🙃

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      2. That’s good to know. Nola is on our list and we want to avoid it during the sweltering summer, so Christmastime is something we’ve considered. Perhaps a mid-fall break would be better…
        We’re very loyal to “our” couples-only resort in Jamaica, as well (Couples Swept Away) but unfortunately haven’t been there for a few years. 😦

        Munich sounds great. Those Christmas markets are becoming a draw for me, though I’ve never been to one.

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  9. Thanks for the post. I like the idea of a trip instead of the traditional Christmas stress. I think my family would love their gift being a trip instead of more things they can lose or throw away. Then I get the best gift of all. Time with my favorite people and no more holiday stress!

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