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I love my family. I really do. And we all love Christmas: We are so bound by our Yuletide traditions that every year of our 48-year marriage my husband and I have hosted the turkey dinner for extended family, our children and then grandchildren.
We decorate the house, put up the tree and rent the china, cook the dinner and pay the tab. As more grandchildren arrived we added extra places at the table and honestly believed “the more the merrier.”
We are fortunate enough to live in the same town as our grandchildren and therefore see (and babysit) them on a regular basis. At Christmas we loved being with them as they listened for Santa’s reindeer on the roof. We gathered around as they tore through their mountains of carefully wrapped gifts, ate too many sweets and spiralled into states of hysteria. The chaos was all part of the fun, we told ourselves.
But there have been years when the fun wore thin, and all the planning, shopping and organizing went badly awry.
Like the time my sister suggested I save my sanity by purchasing a frozen pre-stuffed turkey, the kind that goes into the oven frozen and comes out many hours later perfectly cooked. She assured me this would make life so much easier.
I rushed out and bought one and was feeling quite relaxed about it. But on Christmas morning, when I took this miracle bird out of the freezer, I discovered I had bought the wrong thing: a regular frozen turkey that would take at least two days to thaw.
We had pizza for dinner that night, along with sweet-potato casserole, cranberry sauce and a few tears. The next day I donated the massive frozen bird to a local charity.
Another year, the turkey turned out well but our colicky infant granddaughter screamed so persistently throughout the meal that we could barely carry on conversation at the table. Visiting family members all chose to exit before the plum pudding was lit.
So, this tradition of being at home in the joyous madhouse, tripping over dogs and toddlers, and squeezing into rental chairs at the table was wearing thin. And last Christmas, when my husband and I both got sick during the holidays, it didn’t seem at all like fun.
This year, we decided on a new tradition. We booked a festive getaway – just for us – at a lakeside inn about two hours drive from home.
We were enticed by the promise of the package: two days, including all meals, sleigh rides, snowshoeing in the frosty woods, carol singing around the grand piano.
On Christmas Eve, we would be served a candlelight dinner of prime rib and Yorkshire pudding in the cozy atmosphere of a country inn.
Our garden-view suite offered a wood-burning fireplace and two comfy chairs where we could fritter away Christmas Day reading, napping and waiting to be served turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
And if the guilt of not being home to make the gravy became too intense, I could ease the tension by having a massage in the spa a short walk from my lovely suite.
For the next morning, a Boxing Day buffet was also part of the package. Afterward, we would drive home full of eggs Benedict and Christmas spirit.
We could hardly wait.
Before breaking the news to our family, we secretly told a few friends (other grandparents) about our escape plan.
They were envious, not sure they could bring themselves to make such a bold move, but happy to have us as pioneers. We had no inkling of the pent-up desire for a more tranquil celebration.
“Lead the charge of the grannies!” one friend exclaimed, “and we’ll all join you at the inn next year.”
Soon after, we informed our grown children, fully expecting them to appreciate our need for a quieter holiday. Boy, were we wrong.
When we announced our intention, our daughters reacted with utter astonishment and dismay.
“You don’t really mean it,” moaned the younger. “You would actually want to abandon your family – even your grandchildren – at Christmas?”
They pointed out that they all pitch in to help. While this is all true, it doesn’t prevent us feeling like Santa’s worn-out elves.
Our elder daughter said she couldn’t understand why we would want to drive two hours from home (“in a possible blizzard,” she added for drama) just to get away from our children and grandchildren.
To make their point more vivid, the kids suggested we would probably be surrounded by strangers at this inn, all of them celebrating with their families and possibly with children who were more poorly behaved than theirs.
Well, we capitulated. The majority won, though our sons-in-law were amazingly mute, perhaps more understanding of our need for tranquillity. When we called the inn the next day, they kindly returned our deposit.
And so, this year we will once again be spending Christmas as we always have – surrounded by family, immersed in the chaotic, exhausting frenzy and, in fact, thankful for the blessing of being with the people we love.
But we’ll be dreaming about a quiet country inn.
Judy Ross lives in Collingwood, Ont.