I love everything about the holidays — the hustle, the bustle, shopping, Christmas music, all the holiday parties. Even as a kid, I lived for holidays with the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. There was always something deliciously comforting about the chaos and the noise of our big family holiday traditions. Flash forward a few decades, and with 5 adult children and 11 grandchildren scattered across three states, the decision of where to host our family holiday traditions – home or travel – is, well, complicated.
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Family Holiday Traditions: Home or Travel
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Ah, the memories! The holidays with our blended family.
Thanksgiving brunch at one family’s home, and then Thanksgiving dinner at another.
Waking up at the crack of dawn on Christmas to open gifts…and then the food festivities begin with breakfast, followed by gathering around the table (again) for a family dinner.
But the kids grow up into adults. With families of their own — those precious grandbabies and great-grandbabies.
What once was as simple as a short car drive is now a multi-family, multi-state road trip or flight, both with potential for cancellation due to the winter weather.
Creating New Family Holiday Traditions
While two of our five adult kids live in the Denver metro area, another two live on Colorado’s western slope.
For several years, one of our daughters, her hubby, and my four grandchildren lived in Oregon, so we road tripped (20 + hours!) or grabbed a flight to Oregon to meet up with my daughter’s family.
Then last year, things changed when my Oregon family transplanted to Arkansas, a 10-hour road trip or a short flight away. My oldest granddaughter is now stationed in North Carolina with her Army husband, my great-granddaughter — and one the way.
Yeah, it’s complicated with so many moving family units spread across the United States.
Let’s face it – holiday traditions whether at home or travel aren’t as simple as setting the table or booking your flight.
Traditional Family Holidays Look Different Today
Oftentimes, we’ve had to think outside-of-the-box for quirky holiday party alternatives — without traveling.
A recent survey confirmed that while family holiday travel traditions have changed, when the holiday season arrives, “people feel endless nostalgia… A survey of 2,000 U.S. adults who celebrate a winter holiday finds that two-thirds would love to recreate the magic of their favorite childhood memories this year.”
Interestingly enough, the survey also reported, “Nearly three-quarters (69%) of respondents had holiday traditions growing up and 43% say their longest-running holiday traditions have been happening for 16 years or longer.”
I agree as many of our long-time family traditions, such as decorating the Christmas tree (while Grammie enjoys her wine), watching classic holiday movies (our favs: How The Grinch Stole Christmas & National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), eating holiday meals, and most importantly, seeing friends and family.
No matter the reason, it takes a lot more coordination and planning to get the family together, whether on a multigenerational family vacation or family meet-ups during the holidays.
As an aside, I also believe that’s why family travel has expanded into multigenerational travel.
Changes to Family Holiday Traditions
With inflation at a 40-year high, many families are opting to save money and daring to change family traditions. The biggest stress is often the holiday gift-giving madness! Instead opting to avoid overspending and credit-card swiping by creating a budget for gifts and/or decreasing the number of gifts bought by drawing names.
That is what our family has been doing now or a number of years. We now draw names amongst the adults “children” for a Secret Santa gift (as secret as possible in this family, just saying!). We also set a $125 gift limit.
The grandkids still reap the benefit of gifts, but this allows each of us to have fun fulfilling wish lists for me and my hubby, the adults kids, and Great Grandma.
New Family Traditions – Un-Holidays
Another 57 percent say the biggest changes are around the “activities and traditions” of the holidays (respondents could select more than one choice).
Almost 42 percent mentioned “sleeping arrangements” have changed most, while 28 percent noted that “eating arrangements” were most different. About 17% specifically mentioned, “the day when we actually celebrate the holiday” as the routine that has most changed.
Creating New Family Holiday Traditions
With so many blended families, in-laws and out-law, we actually started a new family holiday tradition at our home. My hubby and I (Papa & Grammie) host all of our adult children and the grandkids for a steak and crab legs night at our house a week or two before Christmas. This takes the stress of our daughters worrying about whether to spend Christmas with us or their in-laws.
Unfortunately, my daughter and her family who lived in Oregon, and now in Arkansas, aren’t always able to travel to Colorado every holiday. So we also added another family tradition — we take the Colorado family to Oregon, not always during the holidays.
The first year my Colorado daughter, her husband, my husband and I flew into Portland, while my Oregon daughter drove there, so we could celebrate her 30th birthday.
After that, my Colorado grandkids and I road tripped to Oregon to meet up with my daughter’s family. The first year, we explored the Oregon coast. This was an amazing photo opportunity with 6 of my 7 grandchildren.
Then last year we all packed up for a long weekend at an Oregon Vacation home in Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory — 3,200 miles! Vacation Homes have now become our family “non-holiday” tradition.
Say It Isn’t So…Home For Holidays No Longer a Family Tradition?
The survey results also suggest that going home for the holidays is no longer a family travel tradition for many. More than 26 percent of survey respondents say they will be staying home or vacationing – not with extended family – this year.
Holiday traditions still hold true for one-third of respondents (33 percent) who they will be “traveling back ‘home’ for the holidays to see family.”
Another 24 percent will be playing holiday host for their extended families, saying “help me now, they’re all coming to my house.”
About 17 percent of respondents are headed to neutral ground, reporting they will be “meeting up with family at a destination.”
Destinations Vary When Spending Holidays with Family
Just as I wrote in my Spring Break Family travel article, destinations vary when spending holidays with extended family:
“Many of our guests have a tradition of spending the holidays with extended family at a beach or ski destination,” says Caroline Shin, CEO and co-founder of Vacatia. “Often those guests book our bigger resort rentals – two-, three-, or four-bedroom residences or larger to accommodate their family members, insisting on a family room for get-together time, and a kitchen for preparing holiday meals.”
Our ski trips often include a stay at a condo in Copper Mountain — it just works best for a multigenerational family. The bonus is that we also get to spend more time together.
On our recent visit to Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory, a hotel room just wouldn’t work for the 8 of us. A local vacation home rental agency, Mt. Hood Vacation Rentals, provided an amazing rental house with plenty of room to spread out. It gave our three merged multigenerational families time together, yet also space (and bedrooms) to spread out.
The New Normal for Family Holiday Traditions
One-third (33 percent) of survey respondents say that “remarriages, demanding in-laws, and/or large families mean we juggle multiple gatherings and commitments.” Another 23 percent note “work schedules and conflicting commitments mean we celebrate the holiday on a different day.”
“If you look at the holidays as ‘holiday time’ rather than getting together on a specific day, it gives you more options,” says Kim Orlando, founder of TravelingMom. “For example, if you want to travel together to a destination, it’s less crowded and more affordable to travel before or after the holiday itself.”
And the bottom line about family holiday traditions? Flexibility makes for the best holiday experiences. For everyone.
What’s your family holiday traditions? Do you stay at home? Entertain the family? Or travel? We’d love to hear about your travels and family holiday traditions in the comments below.