Christmas is absolutely my favorite holiday. It’s that magical part of winter (ok, maybe not the snow storm drives, 40 below temperatures or shoveling the driveway for the 4th time that day part, but the rest really is magical). It’s about spending days sliding down hills or skating on backyard rinks, a thermos full of hot chocolate, the wet mitts, toque hair and rosy cheeks. The smell of roasting hotdogs and pine trees mixed with giant flakes falling overhead represent a perfect Canadian December day. And what I love most are the traditions that come with the holidays. I get excited to put the tree up as early as possible, spilling water and cursing the needles everywhere, secretly rearranging ornaments after everyone helps, then moving them all back because it’s the lack of perfection that makes it beautiful….ok, and maybe because even Type A Mom’s feel guilty. I get just as excited to mail out my Christmas letters as I am to receive and hang up cards and photos from loved ones. I love the parties, the twinkling lights and the trip down Candy Cane Lane, and I live for turkey dinner, pumpkin pie and a house full of family eating, and drinking too much. It’s about my kids shaking , sniffing and listening to gift wrapped boxes, eating that countdown chocolate and trying to catch that naughty little Elf making mischief. It’s those extra special moments like baking family recipes together, putting out cookies and milk and the excitement that ensues the moment their eyes open on Christmas morning.
So why would anyone want to miss all that?
2 years ago we decided to change it all up. In my family we have loved and we have lost. We have learned that our time is not guaranteed and the importance of making the effort to get together. So we made the decision to do something special and booked a 10 day vacation to the Mayan Riviera over Christmas. We exchanged our snow shovels for sand ones, packed our swimsuits, snorkel sets and a little pink tree, and hopped on the plane. I was so excited about the idea of a Christmas away, not yet understanding just how much more than sun and sand this trip would provide for us.
So what does spending Christmas away have to offer?
1. It’s about more than the boxes under the tree. We live in a society obsessed with Christmas catalogues and commercials, adding the latest must have toys and expensive brand names to a never ending wish list. We get caught up in comparisons without even realizing it and find ourselves buying gifts out of obligation rather than from the heart. For me, going away changed all that. Going away became the gift itself. It became less about the number of bows under the tree and more about being together. While we took a few special things with us, we truly came to realize that we had gotten away from the “pressure of the presents”. Trinkets and gadgets were replaced with the giving of experiences like dolphin training days and parasailing Christmas morning.
And I was excited to surprise my entire family with the gift of a group photo shoot, something that we had never done. All of us in a single frame, our loved ones there in spirit, in the beauty of the sky and the ocean behind us. It is a gift I will treasure for the rest of my life, something that no amount of fancy items will ever replace, and it came from the heart.
2. We laughed, relaxed and were merry as a family. Spending 10 days at a resort meant we had endless options of food, drink, activities and space and no one had to lift a finger. No cooking, no dishes, no sweeping or laundry. We were on Mexican time facing decisions on a difficulty level akin to whether we should lay by the pool or on the beach and what kind of drink to order first. We all wore Santa hats and built a “snowman” on the beach.
The guys went deep sea fishing, the girls got their hair braided, I read by the pool and we had more than one laugh at my brother and cousin who thoroughly enjoyed the night life. We became closer than we have ever been as we ate and drank and shared stories. We opened gifts in my Grandparents room, exchanged $10 Mexican gag gifts, opened Christmas crackers and wore paper crowns. I am so grateful for my family and learned that true tradition is born in the memories you create and the bonds you share.
3. Christmas lives outside our own home. Mexico may be about the sun and sand, but it is also all about Christmas. The holiday is more than just a resort celebration, it is a very special occasion as Catholicism is very strong in Mexico. To say they go all out for guests is an understatement. The resort was beautifully decorated, from the massive tree in the lobby to the sleigh and Santa desk for kids to write letters. The feast and decorations on Christmas Eve were incredible, sculptures of ice and chocolate adorning tables, mariachi bands serenading diners, creating a very special night for guests and staff alike. Christmas morning found Santa passing by on a jet ski and then riding his donkey down the beach to a massive celebration where he handed out gifts to wide eyed children. It was beyond anything I expected and absolute magic for the kids.
4. Christmas is about family. It’s about tradition, connection and merriment. Can we afford to go away to a sunny destination every year? No…but I wouldn’t want to. Being in my own home with a glass of wine, turkey in the oven, wrapping paper everywhere and spending hours cutting toys out of plastic chokeholds is my true happy place. But taking the leap to experience something unique is so much more than getting away, and you find yourself looking at the holidays in a completely different light. Even if you only do it once, do yourself the favor of stepping out of your comfort zone. Spend one Christmas getting away from the “stuff” and make the experience the most amazing gift of all time.