Christmas Away from Home

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Abroad for Xmas -- what about Santa?

Oct 2005

We are going overseas for Xmas this year, and wondered how others who may have done this have handled the Santa issue? I don't really want to cart all the Santa presents with us (there and back) but our children have already been reassured that Santa will know where to find them even though we're away. Any thoughts? Thanks!
still a believer

We faced this situation last year and came up with a great way to handle it. We talked the situation over with the kids and, with their grudging support, we decided to write to Santa and ask him to come to our house after the trip when we returned home. We told the kids he would probably have more time then/ he wouldn't be so rushed/ it would be extra special, etc. But they were still a bit grumbly. So we sent off the letter, BUT THEN Santa suprised us all by coming the week BEFORE we left home! This was a fabulous suprise, and the kids loved the letter Santa left for them explaining that he was so impressed by their willingness to delay Christmas that he decided to come early instead. Interestingly, one of our children had been wobbling on the edge of belief in Santa, but this surprise really won her over. An added benefit: because it was unexpected, the children slept quite soundly through his visit (and Santa had no fear of discovery)! A believer

We're not going abroad, but we are going away this Christmas. Santa will be coming to our house in Oakland on Christmas Eve, as always. He will also deliver a couple of small things to our children at my mother's house. To make this happen, we will wrap the gifts and have them all in a room with the door closed near the living room. When we all get in the car to head off to the airport, my husband will run back inside ''because he forgot something.'' He'll take a bite of Santa's cookie, empty out the drink we leave for Santa and place the gifts under the tree. Upon returning, we'll have Christmas morning a few days late! As far as telling our oldest son (the little one is TOO little) what's going on - we'll let him know that Santa is going to deliver to his house as always, but will find him at Gramma's too and leave some things there. Hope something like this can work for you.
-Santa at Home

We usually go abroad too for the holidays. I know Santa operates differently in many families. In our family, Santa brings one special unwrapped toy that is left under the tree, and small trinkets and candies in the stockings. The rest of our presents are from family. We just bring these Santa presents along w/ us. When we get back from our trip, we have a special evening when we celebrate Christmas again and unwrap the gifts.

So far it has worked out great. We usually get our tree the day after Thanksgiving so we can have the whole Christmas feeling before we go too.

Hope this helps! Fellow Traveler

I just thought I'd add to the previous posts who seemed to mostly be advocating creative ways of delaying xmas, that I spent a few Christmases abroad when I was growing up--in Nepal, the Maldive Islands, Sri Lanka--and Santa always found us (of course--doesn't Santa visit children everywhere? in my 5-yr-old ethnocentric mind I sure thought so) with unique, usually small and easily transportable gifts from the place where we were. In Nepal, for example, we got Kashmiri boxes, masks, little carved wooden trucks, bags from the local bookstore... My parents didn't have to bring things with them because they would buy them there, and the things we brought home were special things that we might have wanted to buy and bring home anyway. But these were also not ''holiday trips'', but rather xmases that happened during years that we were living abroad, so maybe that's a different story...
fond of multi-cultural Santa

Going to Florida to be with ill mother-in-law

Nov 2004

I've looked on the archives and don't see anything about this, but this has to be a somewhat common set of circumstances. We are going to be celebrating Xmas at my mother-in-law's place in Florida this year, my son's first Christmas away from home, and I feel completely overwhelmed by the logistics. Two complicating factors are that my MOL is quite ill with cancer (which is why we're deviating from the holiday-at-home tradition) and that, even when well, she is about the least holiday-oriented person you can imagine. That is, she wants us there for the holiday, but the family has no holiday traditions, and she would never think of getting a tree or hanging up stockings or anything like that.

So, whatever happens in the Xmas vein will be up to me, as my husband isn't much of a Christmas guy either. The problem is my 5 year old, who is already talking about the tree, waiting up for Santa, etc. It's a big deal to him, and I'm trying to figure out how in the world to pull it off. I have no problem going out and getting a tree (I guess I'll have to buy decorations too), as my poor MOL would be too sick to do it even if she were so inclined. But how to do the presents, Xmas morning,etc?

Here are some specific questions:

-- what do you do about presents? the idea of schlepping presents to and from Florida seems absurd, but my son really wants to know that Santa is going to be able to find him in Florida. I figured we'd bring one present from Santa and one from us, and that he'd get one present from my MOL and one from his uncle. That's plenty in terms of material gain, but there will be much more stuff coming from my large family. Do we have them ship it to Florida and then cart it all home? Or just leave it til we come back?

- Another present-related problem. Under any other circumstances his one ''big'' present, which would normally come from ''Santa'' or my MOL, would be a new bike, which is the only major thing I can think of that he really needs and wants. But even if we bought the thing in Florida, getting it back would be a nightmare. Is there any way around this problem?

- How do we deal with Christmas morning given the fact that we'll be staying in a hotel? He won't be able to jump up out of bed to see what Santa brought, or lie awake listening for reindeer, etc.

- How do we make it feel like Christmas? My MOL is too sick to eat much, so I'm going to be swimming upstream even by making a nice dinner (something I'm eager to do). At home we usually spend a leisurely morning opening presents and playing with them, take a hike, and then have a nice dinner followed by some carolling around the piano. But probably we're only bringing a few presents, and at my MOL's condo complex there's nowhere to hike, no piano, and not much of a meal. My MOL is going to be pretty tired, my brother-in-law spends most of his time watching TV or playing on the computer, and the day seems like it'll be pretty damn empty.

I know that I'm probably a bit too married to the whole Xmas tradition myself, but given how depressing this Xmas is going to be anyway, I'd like to make it as fun and festive for my son as possible. Any examples of how others have handled similar logistics would be very very much appreciated. nelly

We're also spending Xmas away from home this year - first time - with our 5 year old. We've talked about how we'll have to let Santa know where we'll be, etc, with the plan of explaining that Santa knows we have suitcases, etc, and might have to leave some stuff at home for us (without actually saying what that stuff is).

We'll be shipping a few things out, and trying to pack as lightly as possible because we know we'll be overloaded by the family members we're visiting. So, that might work for your big present, as well as giving your son a card in Florida from Santa with pictures of the items perhaps. Tradition is lovely and important, but I do think kids are resilient and understand the need for change sometimes. I also think that the new environment could help him ''justify'' why everything is a bit different. He may be excited by the changes, and remember it as his special Florida Xmas.

Don't try to re-create everything that you would do at home - I think you're (understandably) the one who will be having the hardest time. You want your child to have the same continuity that you had, but it's okay to change. It's okay to down-size it - in number of presents, sizes of presents, the full extent of what makes a Christmas for you. Think of it as distilling it - the purest, most special elements. Happy Holidays! MomToo

I think you have a tremendous opportunity here to teach your son, and perhaps your husbands family, the true meaning of Christmas.

First, when we look back at our Christmas memories, rarely do we remember what gifts we got. For me, it's family, what we did, what we laughed about, food, the spirit. Every Christmas has it's moments. Some more special than others.

The big thing is you're taking your son down to Florida this Christmas because his grandmother has cancer and won't be around for many more Christmases. You really need to get some perspective here. Chances are, even if your hubby were a big Christmas fan, I doubt he'd be real into it now. So, cut everyone some slack and teach your son that it ain't about the gifts.

So, you may not be able to do all the decorating. You could go to an caroling or any type of Christmas event there will be there. Do an internet search. I'm sure you can find something. Maybe even go to a church celebration, or to a homeless shelter, something.

As for gifts, stick to a few little gifts to open at Florida and give him a miniature bike or a picture of a bike. He'll have something to look forward to when he gets home. You could even give him the bike as a gift and tell him that as a place holder you'll go somewhere and rent bikes and go for a ride on Christmas day. Give your hubby time with his mother perhaps whiel you ride.

I'm sure the hotel will have Christmas decorations. Find out if they wouldn't mind if you gather around their tree to exchange gifts. Treat the family to room service, perhaps and you can all have breakfast in bed.

Also, if you have a stocking for your son, tell him Santa will be able to find him if you bring it and hang it in the room, near a window. Something. Make it fun. It's all about imagination.

Make sure you watch the original Seuss ''How the Grinch Stole Christmas'' or other stories or shows that show the true meaning of Christmas.

Feel fortunate that you will still be with your family and not alone like so many people are at this time. Really, you can turn this into such a wonderful thing. Good luck. And merry christmas. Let There Be Peace on Earth

One Xmas when I was about 6 years old, we spent Xmas away from home in Mexico. I don't remember what we did on Xmas day, but I remember that when we came home a few days later, there were a bunch of Xmas presents waiting at home from ''Santa'' when we unlocked our house door. (A neighbor must have brought them in for my parents when we were away.) That satisfied me as a kid and I was quite happy. Perhaps you could bring one or two presents to Florida and then have the bike and the other presents from your family waiting at home when you return. You can tell your child that Santa knew you couldn't fly the bike back from Florida so he left it at your home instead. (You can write this on a card from Santa that is attached to the bike and you can read it to him.) This might actually spread Xmas out over more days for your child which he may think is much more fun! In the hotel, perhaps you could ask the front desk to send a couple of presents to your room Xmas morning (that you had dropped off with them earlier)? The delivery person could explain how Santa drops presents off in the lobby for all the kids staying there. It wouldn't hurt to ask the front desk what they are willing to do for children staying there on Xmas. As far as the tree is concerned, perhaps get a small tree when you get to Florida. Before you go, buy some simple tinsel or icicles and maybe a small container of ornaments or lights and just have a very simply decorated tree. I personally love simply decorated trees and as a kid I think all I really liked was the lights on the tree so something simple would work. You could also bring stockings as they are easy to travel with. I think you should concentrate less about the material objects involved (tree, etc.) and more about just making a fuss that is is Xmas and have a celebration any way you can (taking a walk rather than a hike, watching a great Xmas video together?). That is what will make it special for you child. Hope this helps. Anon

My heart goes out to you and your family as you make important plans to include your mother-in-law this Christmas. Making sure she is with her family is such a precious gift and will give your son an important message about what being a family is all about.

Last year we were in a somewhat similar situation. We found out the first week in December that our family, including our six-year-old, would be in China adopting our second child two days before Christmas. As in your situation, shlepping presents back and forth didn't make sense and what about Santa Claus?

Since our daughter could read, we had a friend write a letter from Santa on Christmas stationery. (She got the letter one day at breakfast. We told her found it on the fireplace mantle.) In the letter, Santa told her that he knew she would be away at Christmas so he wanted to visit our house early to deliver her presents. But he reminded her to take her stocking to China so he could give her something on Christmas day. On the Saturday before we left, she woke up and found her gifts. And we stuffed her stocking with little things (mostly treats and games she could use on the plane ride home) and had it ready for her on Christmas day.

Everything went great. She didn't think it was at all strange that Santa would make a special effort to come early to her house and then come to our hotel room in China to stuff her stocking for Christmas morning. But we did make one mental lapse. We forgot to bring a stocking for the new baby! So we we were packing her stocking, we wrote another note. attached some money and had Santa ask her to buy a present for her new brother. She also questioned why Santa didn't bring us stockings like usual. But she accepted that since we'd forgotten to bring our stockings, Santa couldn't leave anything for us. And after all, we were just adults anyway.

We didn't set up a Christmas tree last year. Having to take it down before we left or leaving it up for three weeks and then coming home to take down a dried out tree was too much. However, our hotel was beautifully decorated for Christmas (yes, even in China! although the cupids hanging from the ceiling along with the parachuting Santas provided a different touch). We took family pictures in front of the giant Christmas tree in the lobby. Santa visited us at breakfast and passed out candy. A group of costumed girls enthusiastically sang Christmas carols at meals and in the lobby. And the hotel arranged a private room where our group could have a Christmas Eve service. All in all, our daughter had a wonderful Christmas.

I think hotels in the USA would be even more likely to have holiday touches around Christmas time. Maybe you can find out what they might do when you make your reservations.

As far as Christmas trees go, one year we decided we couldn't afford a tree. But just before Christmas, I got so miserable that we decided to go out and buy one anyway. Well, most of the lots were giving away the trees just to get rid of them. If you got a small tree in Florida for your mother-in-law's condo and decorated it with hand made ornaments or cheap ones that are half price right before Christmas, would your son be OK with that? You may find that it could be quite inexpensive. Your mother-in-law might enjoy watching her grandson decorate the tree.

But whatever you do, choose a few things (like maybe cooking a wonderful meal that you and your family will appreciate even if your mother-in-law can't really enjoy it) that make you happy and feel in your heart that it is Christmas. Wishing a you Christmas peace and joy in a town far away. Susan

We took our kids to Hawaii when they were 3 and 5. We got the tree for our house, decorated it and Santa came there while we were gone. He understood that it would be hard for us to travel on the plane with all of that extra stuff. He can even send a note letting them know ahead of time. A picture of a bike in a stocking is a good way to let the child know what is coming!

Gifts for teachers, gift cards are great for Starbucks, Target, or book store (Safeway had racks of all different ones) Unique chirstmas ornaments are nice too. Pier One, Costco etc. are good places to look. Kristy

Why not just celebrate Christmas with all your usual traditions, in your own home, on a day before you leave for Florida? Why must it be December 25th? Go ahead and get a tree here, decorate it, have Santa come, get up that morning and open all gifts, etc. Couldn't you just explain to your son that since you are spending the regular day with his sick grandmother in Florida, Santa will come early to Berkeley for you? Anon.

I don't know how popular this idea will be (with your husband or other readers) but what about not going for Christmas proper? Since the holiday itself is of little meaning to your MOL or your husband, why not spend the actual Christmas holiday in your own home (presents, esp. the big things like a bike, are now a snap! wake up to a tree surrounded by gifts! leave milk n' cookies for Santa! build traditions that are meaningful and fun for your family!). Then you can go see MOL after -- travel on easier days, bring a few token gifts, stay till New Year's Eve and celebrate that instead (much less emotional and physical baggage!) A few years ago my MOL planned a trip for my family for the Christmas holidays. It wasn't what I wanted, and it ended up being *very* anti-Christmas-y for my Christmas obsessed son (we were at a tropical resort, there wasn't a tree or even decoration for miles!). My son kept asking ''When will the snow come?'' like in all his books. We ended up all being kind of miserable. You are *not* ''too married to the Christmas idea''!!! Christmas is a nearly *magical* experience at this age -- do what you can to help create and protect those magic memories! If the family out there was itching to create a holiday with you it would be one thing, but it sounds like they're clearly not. Nearly all your issues and problems would be solved if the folks could get behind the post-xmas trip idea. Good luck!

Well, that's a tough one. I'd have to say that a lot of this is going to come through shifting your own attitude, but it sounds like you're coming to grips with this. My parents weren't really into Xmas -- they thought it was a terrible capitalist institution. If it was bad in the 1970s when I was growing up, it's even worse now, and I've somewhat adopted their ba humbug attitude. However, when I was a kid, I wanted it to be special and here are a few things they did for me, without sacrificing their convictions.

Do your own decorating at home, just to get your festive ya yas out. We went camping for Xmas every year, but we did decorate the house (somewhat) before we left. I liked coming back home, even though Xmas was over, and feeling like it was still going on.

For the tree in Florida: how about buying a baby potted tree, already decorated? These are available from nurseries and from grocery stores. We mostly had Xmas in a Volkswagon bus (because it was time off from work, and my parents spent ALL time off from work away from home), but they usually managed to get a potted tree as a concession to us. You can have this in the hotel room or at G'mas house.

Waking up in the morning: this is something we've had to do with my step daughter, when we were sleeping someplace and ''Christmas'' was going to be someplace else. She always leaves a note for Santa with cookies. He always writes back, and when we're going someplace else, he mentions that he's left the presents where he knows she'll be later. We feign surprise -- we don't know what Santa has planned, after all. This is an adventure and you're in it together. Get the brother in law to write the note, since he won't be as familiar with his writing. That ought to get him off the computer for a minute.

For the bike: if you can manage it, set the bike up at home (maybe under your own tree?) and take a photo of it. Santa can leave the photo with a note. Maybe Santa knew it would be too much of a hassle to schlep, so he left presents under your tree at home. Ship some token presents, but for big stuff, just leave it set up under the tree at home.

Since the day seems like it will be empty, take your hike -- not in the condo complex, but there must be someplace close by where people go all out decorating. Go walk around. I remember a Christmas walking around Palm Springs, looking at other people's decorations. Some of them were quite outlandish and impressive, even during the day!

Rent some Xmas videos, to watch as a family, and to keep the festive spirit going. Do your caroling a capella, or sing along with CDs... get some kazoos. And by all means, make your big meal! Get a bunch of small ''disposable'' tupperware to leave mini meals for Grandma, so she'll have some food once you're gone. Although she can't eat much, she can keep enjoying it once you've left and she may appreciate the convinience of a homemade heat and eat meal. And, this is a perfect opportunity to make the point to your son, the point my parents tried to get across to me (and finally did, too bad they don't read this list). The holidays, no matter what you believe or celebrate, are about slowing down, being together, and acknowledging family. The gifts under the tree at home will wait, either until next year, or until you get home. I think this will be more fun than you think, primarily because you'll have to be creative and think of it as a challenge and an opportunity to create some new traditions. We're trying something new this year -- my husband's ex WILL NOT turn loose of my step daughter for xmas day, so we'll celebrate on either the 23rd or the 26th. She gets Xmas twice, we get to have a really quiet day on our own. In any case, we've told my s.d. that as family, she's more important than the actual day, and worth waiting for. She's impressed! Good luck! Merrilee

You know, you have a really unique opportunity right now to teach your children the true meaning of Christmas. As it may be the last time your children see their grandmother. You may be able to incorporate the novelty of being in a different place into your XMAS holiday, too. You don't have to recreate Berkeley in Florida. Why not let them experience a Florida Xmas? As far as gifts, I've had to spend the holidays away from home and you know, kids love toys whenever they can get them, I think they'll be thrilled to come home and find out that Santa ''double dipped''... gizella

It seems silly to have presents shipped all the way to Florida only to turn around and cart them home, given that your son will have four (or so) presents to open without your family's additional gifts--that should satisfy the ''requirement'' of having presents to open on Christmas day. The presents from your family could be opened either before or after your FL trip- -your son will just learn that sometimes you celebrate the holiday at different times with different family members. As for the bike, I'll never forget when my parents got my sister and I bikes for Christmas and how they did it: they hung a little bicycle ornament on the tree for each of us. They told us to go look at the ornaments and then explained that the little bike represented the new bike that we were each getting. We were older than your son (I was about 8), but I think a 5-year old would understand. If you do something like this, he can enjoy the thought of the bike while you're in FL (maybe you can take a picture of it), and look forward to getting it upon his return home.

For Christmas morning in the hotel--perhaps you could have a stocking for him there. That way you can explain that Santa left the stocking for him there, and maybe a present a Grandma's house...

I wouldn't stress about making it ''feel'' like Christmas. Take a CD or two of Christmas music and play it throughout the day, as you count your blessings that you are with family. fellow Christmas lover

I think you are overthinking the logistics and they shouldn't be that hard. As to your questions.

1)How about a compromise? Ask your family what they are getting him, and have those who are giving your son small presents ship them to Florida, and those who are sending him large presents (or who are local to you) ship them to your home. Bring one extra large suitcase to bring all the stuff back, and take less stuff with you than you'd normally take (how much clothing do you need for such a short holiday anyway?)

2)Assemble the bike, take a picture of it (if you're so inclined, have it taken next to a guy dressed like Santa) and put it in an envelope with a letter from Santa to your son telling him he has left this present at his home. Or just give him the surprise when he gets home.

3)Tell him Santa is going to grandma's house this time ('cause he's staying at the hotel) and then rush over there as soon as he's awake (of course, have your husband/in law set out the presents the previous evening).

4)Use your imagination! Select the presents that give yu the most ''playing time'' in the least amount of time to take with you, books, DVDs, games, etc. Take some Xmas movies with you for the whole family to watch - or go to the movies. Carol without the piano, singing a capella is pefectly OK. If you can't bear it, take with you a CD of Xmas music (a good idea to set the tune anyway). As for food, if you cook it, you will have it - but you can also order out and concentrate on making cookies or some really cool deserts for that day. So what if your MIL can't eat? The rest of you can.

Look, Xmas is what you make of it. If you decide that it's going to suck because it won't be exactly like every other Xmas you've ever had, it's going to suck, not just for you but for your family. If you become a little flexible and a little creative, then it could be a wonderful, memorious occasion. This may be the last Xmas your son has with his grandma - concentrate on that! anon

Would it be possible to make arrangements to do Christmas with the mother and brother in law AFTER the actual Christmas date? I have always stayed home with my child because we have our own traditions and we both like to maintain our own customs. It sounds like you are not looking forward to what also sounds like a very dull day -- both for you and your child. Since your in-laws don't put much weight on Christmas tradition, would it make that big a difference if you flew out a couple days afterward and had a late Christmas with them? That way, your son can have his nice, warm, traditional Christmas, you wouldn't have to try to create an atmosphere outside your home, and you won't have to worry about carting presents around. Just a thought... Anon

We have spend all Xmas away from home. We celebrate our own Xmas a couple of days before leaving (this year we will celebrate on the 18th!). We get to decorate the house, open presents, they get to play with it for a couple of days and get to bring one along on the plane. Then we have other celebrations at our respective families. This way we get our own Xmas, they get all the presents, etc... As far as bringing back presents: let your family know that you are flying and space is limited. It works for us. Merry Xmas

Last Christmas we traveled to be with my mother as she was dying of cancer. She died six days before Christmas. My family enjoys the celebration, and so we had all the equipment, but nothing was prepared. We found that decorating simply, making a nice, but not overwhelming, meal, and having small family gatherings, was really mercifully distracting.

Perhaps working in a little ''Christmas Spirit'' might help things feel a little less gloomy at home. You can get a small tree and make ornaments with your five year old. Make cookies. Bring Christmas music to play. Don't worry too much about shlepping gifts, five year olds can understand that Santa probably would leave the large present at home in California. Perhaps this year you could emphasize small, stocking gifts, especially things that are fun for traveling.

I would also recommend finding a nearby church. Almost any Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, or Roman Catholic Church will have a big tree and some kind of Christmas programing that you can ''escape'' to. You can sing carols to your heart's content. There may even be children's events for your son to participate in. Visiting a church may also help with providing a context for talking about your mother-in-law's illness and death.

Good luck. I hope all this planning helps to make your Christmas more pleasurable. Katie

Why not change your holiday plans so that you're home for Xmas? You said that MIL is very sick and not a big Xmas celebrant; would she really care if you aren't there on that day, then? It seems to me that that would resolve a lot of your questions. Is it your husband or partner who really wants to be at MIL's on Xmas? Good luck with this one. If you really do go, I'd have Santa bring a photo of the new bike, saying he got confused or something & brought the bike to his house in CA instead. Jennie

It sounds like this may be your last Christmas with your MIL, so my advice is to suck it up and make the most of it. Also keep in mind that kids are pretty flexible and staying in a hotel in Florida is a pretty fun, exciting thing for a 5 year old. That said, I do sympathize with you, as spending every other Christmas with my in-laws is torture for me. It's not that they don't celebrate -- they just don't celebrate the way my family does. What we do during 'travel' years is have two Christmases -- one at home and one at the in-laws. We set aside a day a few days before we travel to open gifts and have a special meal. Then I pack the stockings to hang at Grandma's, and shop on the internet and have toys shipped straight to Grandma's house to open on Christmas morning (these are from Santa.) Then we ship it all back home. The main drawbacks are paying for all that shipping, and that the kids have to wait to get their toys again. But they live!

Your husband and MIL have to understand that Christmas is important to you and your son -- I don't see why anyone would object to a tree, hanging stockings and cooking a nice meal. (If you were home, you would be doing all that anyway.) And maybe you can plan some 'special' Christmas activities. Swimming in the hotel pool, going to movies. And try to keep in mind that Christmas is really about spending time with the ones you love...

We frequently spend Christmas away from home with our 2 and 5 year old boys, and we usually have to divide the day among several family branches -- so I'm used to some crazy logistics! Here are my suggestions:

Tree -- Very important. In Florida, get a small tree and some cheap ornaments -- a string of lights, some colored balls, a box of candy canes. If you have a few ornaments that are special to your son, bring them from home.

Santa -- Very important. Do stockings and ''Santa presents'' in Florida -- maybe in the hotel room if that's where your son will be waking up.

Presents -- Not so important. Put lots of small stuff in the stocking to keep your son busy. Do NOT schlep/ship big stuff to & from Florida -- it's a huge hassle and can be hugely expensive! Save that part of the celebration for home, either before or after Christmas.

Christmas Day -- Won't be like being home, so don't try to make it that way. Have a nice lunch or dinner (not too elaborate) and go out to the movies as a family. Heck, go to 2 movies. Go bowling. Go out to a hotel restaurant for hot chocolate and dessert. Have some fun with it ... just do something that feels like a special treat and gets you out of the house.

The key to enjoyment is setting everyone's expectations appropriately. Again ... it won't be like being at home. You can't take all of your rituals with you, so don't even try. Have some fun with the difference ... and Merry Christmas to you all! Sara

My overall general suggestion is to shift holidays a bit and celebrate Sinter Klaas Day on December 6 (Santa actually is the Americanized version of the Dutch Sinter Klass rather than Father Christmas as we have all been led to believe.) You can have all of your decorations, presents, big meal, caroling, etc. on this day and not have to worry lugging presents across country. I may have misread your post, but it sounds like you are not so much into the holiday for religious reasons (and the need to actually celebrate on the 25th), but more of the fun and warm traditions, so this may be an easy solution. You can e-mail me and I can give you the whole Sinter Klaas Story for you to share with your son. If not, here are some tricks that I've used to make it work when I am not celebrating at home. Presents: Have relatives ship the presents to Florida if they would be willing. Do as much shopping on-line or through catolgs as possible and have then delivered to you MOL's house. Ship everything back home so that you aren't lugging everything through the airport. I have found that FedEx Ground is usually the cheapest when shipping a lot (more than 5 pounds) when compared to UPS or USPS.

Bike: Can you pick one out the Bay Area and buy it at a store in Florida (easy if you are buying at a mass merchandiser). Many airlines will let you bring the bike back for free provided it is still in its box (you can assemble for X-mas Morning, disassemble it, put it back in the box and then check it on the plane). Or, better yet, do the cheesey buy it in FL, have it under the tree, return it and have an identical one waiting for you back home.

Are you staying in a 'suites' hotel? If so, make your son sleep in the bedroom with you on Christmas Eve and have him wake-up to the living room of the suite filled with a tree, gifts, etc. Spend the morning together opening gifts, eating breakfast together (most of the 'suites' hotels have a kitchenette with pots/pans/plates). Don't plan on getting to your MOL's house until the early afternoon. There will be a place to hike around you. Do some research on-line.

Go to church on Christmas Eve. There is usually a family service in the late afternoon or early evening. Christmas Carols are usually sung at the beginning of the service for 30 minutes or 45 minutes. Sit in the back and sneak out after the carols if staying for church isn't your thing. Again, you can research churces in the area online and then just make a few calls to the church offices to find out about their Christmas Eve Masses.(Episcopal or Catholic churches are generally a bit easier to deal with than Southern Baptist if you are not religious)

And, cook the meal that you want for your family. If the three of you are the only ones who eat it, then so be it. Cheer up. My best Christmas yet was one spent with just my husband without a tree/trimmings/gifts, etc. Jan

here are a few quick thoughts, I will submit more later if I have time.

Bike: wrap a bike bell with a note or picture of bike waiting back at your house/ maybe rent bikes there, go for a family ride instead of hike (it's nice and flat) can you swim instead of hike?

Your son should be able to understand that people celebrate holidays differently and not everyone decorates, etc. Can you elicit help from any in-laws/ friends there to do some planning/ shopping

bring small-sized presents and thin books which will serve as momentary entertainment on plane ride home as well. good luck. Chris

All I could think about while reading your post was ''how long are you going to be gone?'' Is it possible you could ''postpone'' christmas until you get home? Your son probably doesn't have a true sense of time yet, and if you are only going to be gone a few days, is it possible Xmas could be waiting for you when you get home? I assume your son is off from school for two weeks--the average winter break--and maybe the tree and everything is set up before you leave and you could tell your son it's xmas eve on the day you return? I guess you'd have to get a few members of your family to go along with it, but maybe it would be worth it in the long run. You could tell your son your son you're going to see your MIL ''during'' the holiday break, but not necessarily for xmas. Then MIL wouldn't have to go through something she doesn't normally do anyway.....I don't know...just a thought.... loves xmas too

Reading your email painted such a emotional picture, if I were in your place I would have the exact same issues. But, looking at it from the outside, I wonder how you can simplify everything? How much does your 5 year old know about his grandmother's illness? Can you have an early Christmas celebration at your home and explain that Santa knows that Gramma is sick? Maybe you could then have a smaller celebration at your mother-in-laws. If she is not feeling well it might be hard on her to have a lot of activity at her house. Your son probably doesn't care if the Christmas celebration is exactly on Christmas day. I have a 5 year old daughter and sometimes it is hard to separate out my expectations from hers....Last Thanksgiving we had two complete celebrations because it didn't work out for both families to be together on Thanksgiving and to be honest we had more fun at the early thanksgiving because we didn't have so many expectations...Anyway, my thoughts will be with you at Christmas, all the best for your family. Rosalind

I think you will be able to have a very nice Christmas at your mother-in-law's. You are right that you will probably have to do the decorating and cooking. If you haven't already bought your plane tickets maybe you can arrive a few days early so you have a bit of time for these things. Since it sounds like you want some things to do with your son, how about making some decorations for the tree. You could use red and green paper to make loop strands. When I was just a bit older I fondly recall making popcorn strands for the tree (needle and thread through popped popcorn). With respect to presents, how about ordering presents on-line and having them delivered. You can even have them wrapped (for a princely sum). Also, if you order enough or far enough in advance, you may get the shipping for free. Of course, I would only recommend this if someone other than your mother-in-law can receive packages and put them away. It doesn't sound like she needs extra work. Also, if you get the bike, you can save the box and bring it home on a plane. If not, Santa could write a nice note to your son and tell him all about the bike awaiting him at home. Finally, about things to do, it sounds like there is a lot going on in the family so I would recommend playing it by ear. It may be good to take your son out on walks, to the movies, to the park, etc. to give him and your mother-in-law a break. I hope this helps and I hope everything works out for you. Andrea

From my experience of having many Christmases away from home with my son: what you have to do is convince your son that Santa is way more flexible than most people believe. You can arrange for an early visitation from Santa (up to a week early). Pick a weekend morning, put out milk and cookies the night before, etc. In fact, you can pretty much replicate your usual Christmas day activities, even having local friends, etc. over to join you in the carols. The bike, of course, should be given here. For the visit to Florida, well, Santa can come there too, but of course will only be bringing a few things. You can take his stocking, get a small tree in FL, buy or pack a few decorations (garlands give you lots of coverage). If your MOL is amenable, you might even set up the tree in the hotel room. You can make a dinner special without quite all the fixings, just a few special things could be enough.

You're going to have a different Christmas this year, perhaps one your son will always remember. It doesn't have to replicate the one you have here, but it should be possible to make it special and happy. If your MOL tires easily, then instead of singing perhaps you could rent one of the many Christmas movies and watch that. If you can, try to get your MOL to share her memories of her childhood, both Chrismas celebration and general. It sounds like your MOL may not be with you much longer and these memories could become very precious for all concerned this year. Take care and have 2 very merry Christmases, Dianna

Last year, my daughter and I spent Christmas at my parent's house in Tennessee. Her dad had to work, so we went by ourselves for a two-week holiday. It was great fun, and she was able to see family she normally does not see.

My first suggestion is to treat this as an opportunity to visit with long-distance family and to enjoy a different kind of Christmas. I think you can and should do as much as you can to put the holiday spirit into the time you spend in Florida. Get your husband to help you buy and set up a tree and involve your MOL in suggestions about decorating the house. She may surprise you and be more 'into it' than you think. If not, then she may just appreciate the efforts you take to make the holiday more festive.

Now, to answer your questions. No, do not schlep presents from here to Florida. Have relatives send them to the Florida address, and the Santa presents can be bought in Florida (they have the same major retail stores we have here). I made the mistake of taking all the presents with me. I ended up paying for baggage overage. Wish I had waited and let my parents or sisters babysit while I shopped. On the return trip home, mail the presents that you can and/or want to mail, and take as little with you on the plane as possible.

For the big items, like the bike, buy it in advance and leave it at home (hidden, of course). Before you go, wrap it and leave it. When you guys come back home, you can tell your son that Santa left a special gift for him at home. The way to to this woudl be to create a note from Santa and leave it in your son's room with clues as to where the bike may be (the garage, your room, etc.).

For Christmas morning, if you're staying in a hotel, that's kind of tough. But, I would take one Santa gift and place it by your son's pillow as he sleeps. Put a note on it that says something like, ''I found you here, but couldn't get it all under the door. There's more at grandma's house. Love, Santa''

As far as the actual Christmas day festivities, think flexibly. Your MOL is sick, which makes it both a sensitive and difficult tme. I would perhaps make a simple dinner, keeping the must- have items for the holidays (in my family, it was the yeast rolls and cranberry mold). Does your MOl live near a beach or park? Perhaps you can adjust the tradition to include a different kind of hike. Or, how about card games or board games and hot cocoa? What about Christmas movies like ''It's a Wonderful Life''? I think there will be plenty to do with your Florida family if you can think creatively. Hilary

My family has had many challenges with our Christmas as the main tradition was for all of us (extended - siblings cousings -ex's - steps) to be together. We finally realized that Christmas is when and where all of us are together celebrating it and that was all that mattered and have since made everyone's life easier by scheduling Christmas around when everyone is available (with some limitations of course) and being flexible about it being on the 24th (our tradition). We've gone as late as January 5th one exceptional year because my mother had to go say good-bye to her father over seas. We decided to wait for her.

What I do is this: Every year we go to my mother's. More often than not, that is where I am on Christmas. Depending on when we are going we celebrate at home before or after with my children, grandchildren, my own set of x's and steps, and close friends. We usually get the tree early too and do a lot of crafts and baking which gets us in the spirit. When the kids were smaller we would put them all in the car and one of us would sneak back and pull out all the presents so that when we came back they would be there and the kids would be totally surprised because they thought we could not have done it.

Over the years this flexibility has served us well in many ways, including managing the in-laws that want equal attendance at their celebrations by members of our family. We have even influenced in-law families to be flexible which has gone a long way to de-stressing christmas for all.

Also: Since you will be travelling and possibly needing to keep your son entertained...Christmas crafts are a great way to do that while making it feel like Christmas. You can get red and green sculpey to make little candy canes (or pipe cleaners) and other things to decorate the tree. Good luck and Merry Christmas. taking Christmas with me

eek...that's a toughie! I'm such a Christmas-lover though, I feel like I *need* to figure this out, not just for you, but for your son!

If it were me, I would not schlep the presents back and forth. Can ''Santa'' mail a postcard to your son at your MIL house saying what a great kid he is to spend christmas in Florida and that Santa is very proud of him (or whatever works for your son) and that Santa didn't think that your son would want to send his presents back and forth so they'll be waiting for him when he gets home. The letter/postcard should assure your son that Santa knows that he's away from home and will be sure to find him in Florida too. Have a neighbor or relative set up Christmas and the pile of loot while you're gone. When you get back from the exhausting trip, it's all ready when you walk in the door! The bike needs to originate and stay in California. I think you would be crazy to have it in Florida! Maybe a separate note to your son from Santa telling him there's an ''extra'' special gift at home but the reindeer thought it would be better to deliver it at his house. It's only going to make it easier for yourself that you're ''into'' Christmas. Cook the dinner, get a tree, get some decorations. What if you relieved some of the ''emptiness'' and non-holiday aura by MAKING the decorations with your son? You'll save some cash on buying ornaments in the process. Spend the afternoon stringing popcorn, making construction paper chains, paint some wooden cut-outs. Hot cocoa with marshmallows, bring holiday music to sing along to. Maybe you'll inspire the brother in law to help? MIL can sing with you guys or watch the decorating. Or help string some popcorn. Good luck, the attitude in your post tells me that you'll make the best of it! Happy Holidays

Why don't you celebrate Christmas early? Treat the 22nd or whichever date would work as if it were the 25th. Tell your son, Santa is coming a few days early to your house because you will be travelling on Christmas. Ina