A few months ago, an editorial coordinator for Costco's magazine, The Connection, asked me if I would write an essay in response to the question, "Should you stay home for the holidays?" She wanted me to argue the "yes" case, then she would publish my essay alongside that of someone arguing the opposite. I told her that I don't always stay home. (In fact, I've probably tried out nearly every major permutation of how to spend the holidays, and I have found that each variation has something special to offer.) She said it would be fine to go ahead and write the essay anyway. With my thanks to Kay Trimberger, with whom I've discussed these issues often, here it is:
I should have considered myself warned decades ago. I was driving home from a Thanksgiving trip, with the traffic so backed up for so many hours that there was nothing to do but pull into the parking lot of a bad diner and wait.
In theory, flying is zippier. But add in the ticket costs, ever-escalating fees, flight delays, disrobing rituals at screening, dreary food in the terminals, no food and cramped seats on the flights, and bags that arrive just in time for your trip home, and you are setting yourself up to be the holiday grump.
The first year that I owned my own home, I asked my parents and siblings to come to me. I invited friends to join us for meals. A dozen people squeezed around the table one night, thirteen the next. I loved it.
Other years when I've stayed home, I've been invited to big holiday dinners where I knew just one or two people when I walked in the door. By dessert, though, I had gotten a glimpse into the lives of a house full of people I never would have run into any other way.
I started asking others about their offbeat, no-travel holiday experiences. I heard stories of people who, out of a feeling of obligation, headed to a community dinner that sounded grim but turned out to be grand. Others told of turning off all of their gadgets and heading for the hills. The most vivacious person I know enthused about spending Christmas Day sitting in an overstuffed chair next to a fire, with a good book and a glass of wine.
Many have started their own holiday traditions, with a focus on friends. As our families shrink in size and the grown children scatter to far-flung places, increasingly it is our friends who are there for us, and we for them. So now, often it is groups of friends who gather in homes and exchange gifts of love. They join tree-lighting ceremonies or First Night festivities in the public square, and feel the warmth of togetherness on a cold winter night.
So this year, consider staying home for the holidays. Try it - especially if you have never done it before. Try it, even if the thought makes you a bit uneasy - no, especially if it does. You never know what you might discover about people you only thought you knew, or what you might learn about yourself. Try it because Americans are all about reinvention. Even our "traditions" don't stand still.
To read the other person's essay, click here.