Throughout my life, when my holiday traditions have changed, for financial or family reasons, I have found myself yearning for what used to happen.
When I was young, my family would travel regularly during winter vacations: Florida, Washington DC, the Caribbean, Europe. I grew accustomed to the ritual, and was very excited about all the family planning and discussion in preparation for the event: what we would see, friends we would visit, places we would stay. I would wear my favorite outfits (white go-go boots stand out in my mind), and prepare for the warmth or the cold of our travel destination. With a family of four children, we each kept a travel journal, and I was the collector, the one who saved every little travel trinket that could be taken from any location we visited: shells, coins, pamphlets, playbills, and postcards…I brought back my treasures and could relive the moments that stood out from the wonderful adventures we experienced.
Time passed and I started my own family. We were not in the same financial position as my family had been when I was younger, and the travel to which I had become accustomed no longer filled up my winter holidays. I remember the first few winters when I would anticipate the upcoming holiday vacation, assuming we would make some sort of extravagant travels plan. The disappointment would come slowly, as I realized that the holiday break would consist of a local gathering, a meal with friends, and a lot of down time. It was very hard for me at first, and I resented what I felt I was missing. Lots of neighbors and friends were traveling and making plans; why weren’t we? The travel planning that took place in my family of origin was not even vaguely discussed in my new family. No trips, no travel, not even a word.
More time passed, and my children got a bit older. We began to establish our own rituals: a visit to the zoo to see animals and holiday lights, a small holiday party with a Yankee Swap, a day train trip to New York City with the local train club (my son was an avid train enthusiast), eating latkes and playing dreidel with our neighbors, or taking yet another holiday train ride at Edaville Railroad. These memories became special and very important as my expectations shifted, and time with my new family became the focus of the holiday.
Now both of my children will soon be out of the house. We have continued some of the family holiday rituals, and some new rituals have been established. We no longer travel on the train to New York City, and our Yankee Swaps no longer take place. And my children are not spending all their holiday time with my husband and me.
Instead of having memories of far away places and collections of travel trinkets for a scrapbook, we have photos, and stories, and memories that are connected to events closer to home. And my longing now is about returning to a time when my oldest son was 6, and we got up early to catch the train to New York City, singing holiday songs along the way, and treasuring every single moment of that amazing and wonderful time in life.
Perhaps the holiday travel I yearned for earlier in my life, and the time I yearn to return to now, have more to do with the oft-forgotten lifelong motto by Robert Ingersoll that I had tacked on the wall of my childhood bedroom: “The time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here.” Perhaps holiday travel in my family of origin was the same as the holiday rituals that now take their place in a different form in my family now.
Perhaps if you want to, and you are able, you can travel and enjoy wonderful family experiences. And perhaps if you are not able, you can still enjoy wonderful family experiences closer to home.
No matter which train you board, I now have learned that the journey can be wonderful and amazing. All Aboard!