Christmas and “going home”

The two message boards I belong to both visit the same topic repeatedly: how parents expect their adult children & grandchildren to go “home” for Christmas.

With the result that the posters, the sandwich generation, end up traveling a few hours between houses, in-laws, stepfamilies, and so on. Or else they stay home and are treated to guilt trips.

(So between the car trip or the guilt trip, there’s travel involved.)

I thought about where this expectation arose that everyone must go to their parents’ houses for Christmas. I wish I could say it was Biblically based: Joseph had to travel to his ancestral home for the first Christmas, and therefore all of us need to get into our cars and sit in interminable traffic jams on I-95 for every Christmas since then.

Of course, that’s nonsense. What we have is a matter of expectations failing to change with changing times.

When I was growing up, it was understood that on Christmas, we’d visit with different family members. My Dad had Christmas Eve, and we’d visit my stepmom’s family. On Christmas Day, we were with my mom and my stepdad, and we’d see my mom’s mother and my stepdad’s family. At some point in there, probably on the 23rd or the 24th, we have visited with my father’s mother.

Do you know why this was possible? Because we all lived in New York City. Most of us, in fact, lived in Brooklyn. We were half an hour away from one another.

Why was my Aunt Rosie able to have sixty relatives in her house for New Year’s Eve? Because we lived so close to one another. When my grandmother was growing up, three of her family members lived around the block from one another.

Nowadays, I read on message boards about families getting guilt trips for not visiting their relatives in Wisconsin AND Michigan, and I wonder whether the parents and the in-laws have ever seen a map. Or travelled on Christmas day.

Changing times: our families have scattered. We simply can’t come home for Christmas the way we used to pop over to Grandma’s on Christmas for dessert.

Therefore, I would issue an impassioned plea to everyone doling out the guilt trips to their adult children: yes, you’d love to see the grandkids at Christmas. But for the love of Pete, look at a map. Realize your children have moved three hundred miles away. Accept that it cannot happen.

Easy to say, hard to do. I know. But for the sake of your grandchildren’s parents, please try. Just because the Wise Men travelled for two years following the Star of Christmas doesn’t make it a requirement for the rest of us.


  1. Amy Deardon

    No, I agree with you! I have always believed that children should have Christmas in their own home instead of being dragged from pillar to post. Adults are easier in a way, although once your kids are grown, then THEY should have Christmas in their own homes so THEIR kids aren’t dragged from pillar to post.

    But then again, everyone’s different. Some people like to open presents on Christmas Eve, some like a big party. Who knows? You make a good point about location. Heck, there’s a whole week between Christmas and New Year’s.

  2. Amy Deardon

    PS — you’ve been tagged! If you want to play, just link to my site and then list 7 random facts about yourself. My link is here:

    Merry Christmas!

  3. Deb

    I completely agree. I’ve always wondered about people who express their love through guilt…

  4. Dymphna(4HisChurch)

    I agree as well. I also don’t understand parents guilting their adult children when they move to another state for job purposes. Do they really expect their children to live within minutes of them all their lives no matter what?!

    My own dear fil tried to get us to stay overnight with the kids on Christmas Eve. This was a man to whom Christmas meant absolutely nothing philosophically. He had spent many a Christmas vacationing and suddenly he wanted Christmas to be at his house?! Thank goodness my sil put her foot down and said that the grandchildren were going to be waking up in their own home on Christmas morning!

  5. ladyknight

    It’s not just parents either. In my DH’s family, you get guilt from the ENTIRE family once they learn you’re not coming for whatever holiday is coming up! That makes me less likely to want to visit, which in turn causes more guilt trips, making me even less likely to visit, and it all turns into a vicious circle. Thankfully, my parents are slightly more sane and understand that visiting them for every holiday when I’m 800+ miles away just doesn’t work. Because they’re understanding about it, I’m a lot more excited to visit them. Shocking, I know!

  6. Cricket

    My brother’s inlaws took my SIL out for her birthday dinner on her birthday. Husband had to work that day? Too bad.

    I like spreading the visits (and openings) out over several days. Each toy gets appropriate attention, in front of the giver. My parents prefer to be the “when everyone can get here” house, so my MIL isn’t alone for the big day, and my SIL’s family can get their time. Then everyone relaxes at my parents (as much as they can with the kids around).

  7. Hope T.

    My husband’s family has the opposite problem. His mom was widowed a while back and had to sell the family home and move into one of those senior citizens’ communities. She has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room. It is a nice place but not big enough for seven adults, five kids and a dog! Regardless, all the “kids” STILL want to come “home” for Christmas. Mom feels guilty for being too worn out and not having the room to host them all so she can’t just say “I think you and your children and dogs should enjoy Christmas at your own homes!”

  8. philangelus

    Hope, it sounds as if your MIL ought to say, “Getting together for Christmas sounds like a lovely idea! Who’s hosting it?”

  9. Cricket

    We spent several Christmases in a hotel room near Grandpa’s Lodge. Very empty place, but it worked well enough.

  10. knit_tgz

    Do they really expect their children to live within minutes of them all their lives no matter what?!

    Sadly, some of them do think even more: that if you happen to meet a future spouse that’s suitable in everything but has a job that will require you both to move away, you should put your family (meaning: parents) first. Some of them guilt trip you for not living within foot distance (you live 30-40 mins away by public transportation). Some of them expect you to live at their home even if you get married. I know examples of each and every of this cases. I’m sorry to say that some parents are self-centered (even when not fully selfish: they actually believe this would be the best for their sons/daugters).

  11. kherbert

    Agree totally. We still get together with Dad’s family – but we are all in Houston or Austin.

    My parents considered going to Mom’s family for Christmas. Nanna put her foot down – kids need to be home from Christmas. Meaning the one they lived in. Since we lived something like 1,500 miles away, we didn’t visit over Christmas.

    I do remember sitting by the phone and waiting to get a clear line to call them in Canada (this was the 1970’s).

    Now -Skype, webcams, facebook, e-mail, photo/video sites, X-box live etc. means it is even easier to keep in touch. I have cousins on several 2 continents an 3 countries that get together on weekends on school holidays and play video games with each other. My 4yo niece cracked up the teacher when she referred to her cousins that “live in the computer”.

  12. Cricket

    I like your Nana. It sounds like sitting by the phone was part of your Christmas tradition. Brian tells a wonderful story about his first (and worst) Christmas in Canada, which turned into his best, because after the main events he walks home and thinks about all he’ll tell his relatives in Australia, and cherishes his time talking with them.