Years ago, a colleague told me they made a point of going away each Christmas to avoid the stress and dynamics of Christmas, and had never regretted their choices. On the other hand, I had always looked forward to celebrating Christmas at home with family and friends. But 20 years ago, we broke tradition and had our first Christmas ‘away.’
At the time, all three of our daughters were living out west—two daughters in British Columbia (BC) attending university in Victoria and Vancouver, and the third teaching university in Calgary, Alberta. So, we booked our first family away Christmas on BC’s Vancouver Island at the famous Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria.
Built in 1908 and located downtown on the Inner Harbour, the Empress was a perfect place to be during Christmas as the whole area was lit up with thousands of lights. The magic of the holiday season continued inside the hotel, where at the entrance a large decorated tree greeted guests from all over the world. On the second floor, there was a dazzling forest of more than 75 beautifully-decorated trees.
On Christmas Eve, we enjoyed an excellent buffet in the fancy ballroom and on Christmas Day morning, we were pleasantly surprised to hear carollers singing holiday music along the halls. And they left a Christmas stocking filled with goodies hanging on the doorknob of each room. Our first ever Christmas away was a special, carefree, joyous time that surprassed our expectations.
It was another 10 years before we had another Christmas away, this time in Arizona, arriving in Mesa late on Christmas Day. We picked up our rental car at the airport, waited for other family members to arrive and by the time we left the airport, we were all hungry for a nice holiday meal. But there was an unexpected problem—all the restaurants were closed, including the one beside our resort. Finally, after driving around a bit, we found a fast-food drive-in that was open. We chuckled as we munched on a Christmas Day dinner of hamburgers, fries, onion rings and pop, while sitting in our rental ‘dining-car’ in the parking lot that was empty.
The following year, thanks to a vacation package gift from our accompanying daughters, we had a Caribbean Christmas in the Dominican Republic at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana. It was a direct Christmas Day flight from Thunder Bay on a half-empty flight (it felt like we were on our own private plane). Arriving at the Punta Cana International Airport with its palm trees, thatched roof and welcoming band playing the island’s merengue music put us right into the tropical holiday mode. The resort’s van drove us to our suite in a two-storey villa.
It was kind of funky upon arrival to see the resort’s reception area decorated in Christmas garlands and the friendly staff wearing Santa red-and-white hats with jingle bells. It was late in the evening by the time we checked in, so we went to eat at the resort’s all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. I had never seen such a large selection of food and drinks in one place—definitely a gourmet Christmas Day dinner.
One off-site excursion we took was the Outback Safari, an all-day tour by a small bus that took us to the countryside, passing through small villages, visiting a chocolate plantation, and stopping for a Dominican-style family lunch at a hilltop ranch that had its own small zoo and Rum Shack. Our last stop was a gorgeous secluded beach for some fun water boogie boarding.
But by far, my favourite Christmas away was 13 years ago when we went to Calgary to spend my grandson’s first Christmas with him. We cooked the traditional turkey dinner with oven-roasted potatoes, Estonian sweet-and-sour sauerkraut (the way my mom used to make it), real cranberry sauce, and all the trimmings. The highlight of that special Christmas was spending an evening at the Calgary Zoo to experience their annual Zoolights with its glitzy display of 1.5 million Christmas lights. There was also an igloo-building, ice-carving demonstrations, reindeer stables, carolling and fire pits where we warmed up.
Admittedly, breaking tradition to spend Christmas away is relaxing and makes for some wonderful memories. I still do, however, cherish the traditional Christmas spent at home with its hustle and bustle, shopping, visiting and setting up outside Christmas decorations (like my lighted polar bear, reindeer and moose outside the front door).
Wishing everyone the best for the holiday season and good happenings in the coming year.