Christmas At Home Or Away?

26/11/2014 16:37 | Updated 22 May 2015

Christmas at home or away?Alamy

Should Christmas be spent at home with the extended family – or is escaping overseas a smart move for families?

Over the years, I've grown accustomed to a traditional British Christmas. I've learned to cope with the pressure cooker build-up; I've become an expert at negotiating back-to-back parties; I put on a mean spread; and I can just about make it through the intense boredom of Boxing Day without flipping my lid.

In spite of seasonal stress, I do enjoy spending time with friends and family – and nothing beats the sheer joy of Christmas morning, when your child finds out that Santa has been.

But this Christmas I wanted something different. Since leaving home for university I've either spent the Big Day with extended family or in London with my husband and eight-year-old, son, Eliott.

We've had good times and bad: wonderful presents, culinary disasters, family rows, epic parties and legendary hangovers. Christmas has always revolved around keeping people happy, rushing around like maniacs and spending £1,000s to make things 'perfect'.

This year, work, school and family life have been so hectic that we're desperate for a rest. Eliott is getting older, and 'believing' has got more to do with Santa's limitless budget than really buying into the myth.

My parents have plans of their own and my mother-in-law is going to Australia. And after losing my beloved Grandmother in the summer, the prospect of getting through silly season without our regular phone calls is daunting.

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We discovered that a week away, in a swish Canary Island hotel, would cost about the same as our usual mix of entertaining and partying in the UK. So we planned a festive trip to Tenerife that is all about us, totally removed from the stresses and strains of tradition.

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I even decided to hang up my elf suit and hand the school fair Santa's grotto duties over to another PTA volunteer.

But I am having doubts about our decision. We travel on December 21st and the weather could be atrocious. I'm the world's worst flier (vodka and valium gets me through) and I'm worrying about winter turbulence (yes, I've made that up) and skidding down a snowy runway.

My friends are making Christmas plans and we're completely out of the loop. Any last minute Christmas gift shopping I might hope to get away with is totally off the table and dressing the (downsized) tree gave me pangs of regret about leaving our lovely, Christmassy home. The biggest worry of all? That Eliott's face won't light-up with delight on Christmas morning.

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Now I'm wondering if booking a holiday at Christmas was the ultimate act of parental selfishness.

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Helen Smith thinks so. She has two primary school-aged boys and says that Christmas is the one day when extended families are meant to be together. "Flitting off to the sun with my husband and our kids would feel like a snub to my parents. I'd feel like I was depriving them of the highlight of their Christmas Day - watching my kids consuming way too much chocolate and fighting over the spoils from their stockings.

"There are 364 other days in the year to go on holiday. It's only one day, and it's about putting others first. Opting out of that would make me feel selfish, and this is no time of year to act like Scrooge."

Judy Young, who has two grandsons aged four and five, agrees that Christmas should be spent at home: "Christmas for me means having all my children and grandchildren here to stay. We've tried to spend Christmas away on a couple of occasions - disaster!

"We all just love being at home, opening presents in front of a roaring fire, with champagne and mince pies; late lunch with turkey and all the trimmings; a long walk in Battersea Park, then back home for riotous and very competitive games. If traditional is considered boring, give me boring any day."

Jo Dodds gets around the grandparents issue by going away with her extended family in tow. In the last 10 years, she has only spent one Christmas in the UK. "My father-in-law has never liked Christmas in this country, so we've always gone skiing," she says. "We take Christmas cake and Christmas pudding, as well as decorations, so going away still has traditional elements - plus picture postcard snow.

"We go to the same place each year with the same routines, similar to creating family traditions at home, but we have an active holiday rather than vegging out in front of the TV and eating too much.

"We can Skype friends and family from our apartment on Christmas Day and at six years old, my daughter Ellie is already a demon skier."

A loss in the family motivated Kate Sutton, a mum of two boys aged eight and 17, to try Christmas in the sun. "We always had a traditional Christmas with my parents," she explains. "But when my mum died I couldn't bear to be at home so we went abroad for the first time.

"I enjoyed Gran Canaria so much that we went to Fuerteventura for Christmas the next year. I loved the fact that it was hot, quiet, there was no one there, and I had much less stress being away from the UK. We took a couple of presents for the kids to open, one of the dads dressed up as Father Christmas and it was very relaxing. I wish we could do it every year."

Kate's experience is encouraging and, thankfully, Eliott's only concern about our Christmas in the sun is if his Lego advent calendar will fit in the case. As long as he has one 'big' present to open on Christmas morning, and the weather is decent enough for him to swim every day, he'll be blissfully happy.

He's already telling anyone who'll listen that we're spending Christmas on 'the Island of Fernandos' (rumour has it, that's what Tenerife is): he's expecting Paddy McGuinness to be waiting on the tarmac when we land (let the turkey see the stuffing?)

I'm sure next year we'll go back to the traditional chaos of Christmas at home, but every time I see that ASDA advert, I'm reminded of the reasons why we've opted out. Instead of collapsing by 5pm on Christmas Day, in a heap of wrapping paper, rejected sprouts and ripped open Lego boxes, I'll be on a beach in Tenerife, sipping sangria and watching Eliott whizz down water slides.

And when we return, the blind panic will be over, replaced by the relative calm of an Olympic-themed New Year's Eve party, surrounded by our friends and family. With any luck, we'll have the best of both worlds this Christmas, and none of the stress.

Where are you planning to spend Christmas? Have you ever been abroad for the Christmas season? Or do you just dream of it?

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