Not home for the Holidays

Pere Noel, Daddai Na nollaig, Sinter Klaas, Papa Noel. The magic of Santa Claus is that he is everywhere in all different countries and all different languages and is known by many names. In fact, with the mileage he covers in a single night he just might be considered the very first frequent traveler. Imagine the amount of points he accrues in just one journey. I too like to travel during December, although usually in the earlier part of the month. Those last bitter days of Fall as it slides into Winter are still considered “low season” in the travel industry. That means the rates are favorable and there are fewer people travelling. Both of which appeal to me and probably to Santa too.  The downside is that you have to be very organized with regards to your holiday preparations such as card writing, decorating, wrapping presents and so on. If not, you return from a relaxing trip and jump head first into a veritable holiday windstorm of activity.  Then again, there are those who decide to throw tradition to the wind and completely abandon the seasonal obligations in favor of taking a vacation during the holidays. Imagine not having to clean and cook in anticipation of the arrival of family. Imagine not only having your holiday dinner prepared for you but also served in a relaxed environment with someone to clean up after you. I know it’s not for everyone and certainly not for me because I do enjoy all the fuss that goes into making the holidays so special. But, I will travel in early December when given the chance. The time of year ensures that it’s post tropical storm season which usually results in great weather wherever I go. Of course, there’s the bonus of getting better rates since it’s not yet high season in the Caribbean or ski areas.  By the time I return from these jaunts, the holidays are in full swing. There’s nothing like sitting on a beach at a resort to get you in the mood to write holiday cards. You might be sending good wishes to those friends and family members who could possibly be shoveling snow. If that sounds appealing, here’s a handy tip: since most people who receive holiday cards from exotic locales consider it to be a form of bragging, I strongly suggest that you delay posting your mail until you can obtain a local postmark. In other words, wait until you return home to mail them. No one needs to know that they were composed in a lounge chair by the beach. Unless of course, you want them to know. In my travels I have found that there are many similarities in the way we all celebrate, but there can also be distinctly local touches. Nothing evokes the romance of a classic holiday celebration quite like Merry Olde England. Visiting London and its surrounding areas during the holiday season is a bit like stepping back in time. I almost expected to see Bob Cratchett and Tiny Tim coming down a local lane. There’s such a familiarity with English customs, Welsh carols and the classic tale of Scrooge that we associate the holidays most strongly with London in the 1800’s. Add a cup of Wassail and a roaring fireplace and now you’ve got a storybook holiday.  If the idea of warm weather is more appealing to you, you probably haven’t really experienced the variety of Christmas until you’ve seen Santa in shorts and flip flops. I had the pleasure of watching St. Nick arriving on the back of a moped as the star of a colorful street parade to honor his arrival. I assume that since reindeer are cold weather beasts the decision was made to let them remain in the North Pole during Santa’s tropical excursion. Sitting on a sandy beach and listening to familiar holiday carols albeit with a distinctly tropical sound thanks to Caribbean steel drums can put a lot more HoHoHo into your holidays. Especially if the weather is frightful back in New York.  A white Christmas is just as pleasant when the white stuff is the sand between your toes.  One memorable year I had the experience of visiting Israel during the holy season.  Being in Jerusalem during the time of Chanukah and Christmas does add a much deeper meaning to the holidays. However, Chanukah is a bit more like a festival than a high Holy day. Children receive Chaunkah coins called gelt and traditional foods are prepared and enjoyed. Christmas is a bit more solemn and reverent. Christ’s Mass is celebrated with the depiction and recreation of Joseph and Mary’s journey in search of an Inn. That journey seems even more poignant when you understand how tough the travel and how long the journey would have been in those historic days. My visit to Israel occurred prior to the expected pilgrimage of tens of thousands of believers who arrive annually for the celebration. Yet, for all of its current day commercialism of the holiday, being in the Holy City strips away all that is crass and simplifies the singular goal of all who visit. To quote Linus VanPelt in the classic Peanuts cartoon “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown”, celebrating where it all started “really brings Christmas close to a person”. If you’re looking for something a bit more meaningful than just a holiday break and to celebrate a tad closer to home, Rome would be the choice. You would need a special invitation to attend the Papal Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica but you are welcome to join the crowds attending the Papal blessing in St. Peters Square on Christmas Day. I’m confident that the toy industry would take umbrage with my suggestion of eschewing a toy laden holiday in favor of bringing yourself face to face with the source of our seasonal celebrations. But, to again quote the ever wise Peanuts crew “that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”

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