How do you handle Christmas out-of-town with small kids?
November 28, 2016 7:17 AM   Subscribe

For the first time, we're taking the Christmas show on the road, including two young kids. How do we handle gifts?

We've always spent Christmas at our home, but this year we're visiting my in-laws and traveling by plane. I'm a little sad about giving up Christmas morning with the kids waking up in their own beds, etc, but I'm happy to be able to see family. However, in a conversation with my MIL this weekend I learned that she was expecting we'd be transporting all of our gifts for the kids to their house (and then back home again), either via our checked luggage or shipping them.

I hadn't planned too much, but had somehow figured we'd have a mini-Christmas at home, before we left, and have the kids open their gifts from us and from, for example, my parents. We aren't too big into Santa, so that's not an issue, but it seemed like it would be a fair compromise. Last year we also took 2-3 days to open all the kids' gifts in a thoughtful manner so they didn't get overwhelmed.

Logistically we do most shopping online, so I could always just have them delivered to the in-laws house, but we'd still have to get them all home. It seems ridiculous to have to haul all that stuff back and pay for luggage or shipping, deal with the delays, risk things getting lost, etc.

I don't know if my MIL just wants to have the whole huge-pile-of-gifts scene at her house, but it seems like there'd still be plenty to open even just exchanging with everyone else who is there (we will be bringing/shipping gifts for all others).

So...what makes sense? What do seasoned holiday traveling families do?
posted by handful of rain to Human Relations (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I went to my grandparents' house almost every christmas which is 10 hours away. Admittedly we went via car. BUT we always took all presents with us and opened them on Christmas morning like normal.

One year I did get a bike and under the christmas tree was a picture of a bike* and I was told that Santa delivered it straight to our house because he was smart and knew we would be travelling.

*It was a polaroid of the bike literally sitting under the tree at home. My dad must have moved it after packing us all in the car.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:29 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have a firm rule that we spend Christmas at our house. So this year we're leaving on the 26th to go to my in laws a thousand miles away. (I'm kicking and screaming inside.)

We will do our gifts here, and I would do it that way even if we were going for the holiday itself. There is no way I am wasting money and time messing around with that crap. My in laws can stuff it if they don't like it. There will still be plenty for the kids to open while we're there. You can always spin it as the kids will only be getting gifts from the grandparents, so they'll have a moment to shine, so to speak.

But stand your ground and do what you want.
posted by wwartorff at 7:32 AM on November 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

It's completely crazy to lug all your kids' presents onto an airplane and back again. You know it is. It's okay to tell your mother in law you aren't going to do that. Open presents with your kids at home before you leave (or save a few for afterward). It doesn't make sense to create a situation where you have to deal with even more hassle than a normal, already stressful flying-at-Christmastime-with-kids scenario.
posted by something something at 7:35 AM on November 28, 2016 [27 favorites]

However, in a conversation with my MIL this weekend
Your spouse should be the one who tells your in-laws that you aren't hauling all the presents to their house. They should also remind them that giant gifts for the kids are not a good idea, due to the need to ship them all home. And you should just ship everything where you can. The USPS flat rate boxes are a good deal as long as you don't require overnight delivery.
posted by soelo at 7:36 AM on November 28, 2016 [14 favorites]

No, you don't transport your kids' gifts there and back. Not sure what your MIL is thinking other than that she wants to see the kids open loads of presents but this is completely your call and Christmas is stressful enough. You don't even need to explain it to her. Just tell her you're doing your own Christmas before visiting. If she argues or gives you any grief, just let it drop and go ahead with your own Christmas anyway. This is really not her call.

Dealing with all the gifts (and bringing them back home again!!) is not something you need to worry about. Having a separate Christmas is just nicer for your family all around. You and the kids get to have a special Christmas in your own home, and then Christmas with the extended family is more relaxed.

I have a huge extended family and even for those of us who were local, we never brought our nuclear-family gifts to the extended-family Christmas. That idea seems completely bonkers to me.
posted by Polychrome at 7:37 AM on November 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have traveled domestically or internationally every year for Christmas with my kids, now 4 and 6. The space in your luggage on the way there for the gifts you will give will be filled by the gifts you will receive. Don't overthink this too much. Pack a soft duffel inside your bags in case you really do need extra space for the return trip. Yes, you will be checking at least one bag. But you probably would have been doing that anyway, so don't sweat it. You definitely don't need to bring along your gifts to the kids, though. MIL can Skype into the opening if she really wants to be there for the reveal.

For other gifts, everybody has to be on board to understand that gifts to you need to be airplane-appropriate (hello, sister who once gave me a creme brulee torch and pressurized fuel canister!) and sized as such (hello, sister-in-law who gave us a three-foot tall lamp, which had the added "benefit" of being in 220 volts instead of 110 volts!) Mention that to your family now. Do not assume that everyone will automatically realize it.

Finally, and I know it's hard to change family traditions, but maybe consider "huge pile-o'-gifts" isn't exactly necessary?
posted by Liesl at 7:38 AM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Having had most of our Christmases abroad, then for sure minimise the amount you'll have to transport. Grandparents (ime) often don't think through the logistics, so don't expect whatever they give to be tailored to the fact that you are going to have to almost immediately transport them. (If the MIL hasn't thought through the impracticalities of taking your presents to hers, you can bet on the gifts she has bought not being tailored to your travelling needs.) This means that space in your luggage going is required.

We have settled on the line that one gift is from mum and dad, and that is given on Christmas Day. Santa has been informed that "his" gifts are to be delivered to the home address.
posted by Gratishades at 7:40 AM on November 28, 2016

I dealt with this for some years when my child was smaller and gifts were bigger. Online ordering and delivery to in-laws' house does make it much easier on the front end. But the back end was a total pain, finding boxes big enough and packing them up well enough and then taking them to the local UPS affiliate or Mailboxes Etc. and paying lots of money for shipping. And doing that stuff on the 26th or 27th or 28th is the last thing in the world you want to be doing. If you want to compromise, you could propose to in-laws that you will work with them on this if they can take care of getting the stuff shipped back to your house.
posted by sheldman at 7:40 AM on November 28, 2016

We only did day traveling, but most of the presents from our parents and "Santa" were opened at home and not carted all over.

Does she expect the presents as in she really wants them all there, or did she just assume that's what you guys would want to do? If she doesn't realize you guys open presents over a few days she may believe that you guys open everything on Christmas Day.

If she's insisting that there be a big pile of presents, you could possibly do one easy to transport present each or stockings at MIL as a compromise. I wouldn't even really discuss it with her ahead of time unless she brings it up again or if you left the impression you were bringing everything (and then have spouse address it). Just do what you feel is right, and spouse can address it if any complaints arise once you're there ("When packing we realized how impractical it would be...").
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:46 AM on November 28, 2016

If you are traveling by plane and not car, hauling crap back and forth is totally crazy.

Your spouse needs to help out - spouse's parents, spouse's responsibility to primarily manage the relationship.

"Hey, Mom. FYI we are doing Christmas like this: We have over the last few years established a tradition with the kids where we open up gifts over a few days. So we're going to send [whatever it is] to your house to be unwrapped there. We really enjoy drawing out the holiday with them at this age and we think they will really enjoy and appreciate the holiday at your house! See you soon!"

You're not asking, they are your kids, and it's your family. You're telling. REALLY NICELY but y'all are telling.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:46 AM on November 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

Bring one or two token gifts that will also be good distractions for the plane ride home. Bringing everything else on the plane is madness.
posted by rockindata at 7:53 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

we'd be transporting all of our gifts for the kids to their house (and then back home again), either via our checked luggage or shipping them.

This is silly.

The kids open gifts from you and local family before you leave.
posted by LoveHam at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2016

We have a toddler, generally spend Christmas at my mom's house, and are still trying to figure this out. But so far it seems better to save the larger home gifts for after the trip, rather than before - that way they don't have to leave their cool new toys right away. We do send gifts there to open and bring back, but not big or heavy ones.

I think it's fair to establish a rule that the gift-giver has to ensure the gift can get to its recipient - i.e. if your in-laws buy your kids bikes, it's their job to ship them back to your house. As a corollary to that rule, you should be able to keep whatever gifts at home if that's the easiest thing for you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Why not compromise & save one or two "special" present to open at Grandmas. Open most of the ones from you guys & local family on the big day & save one/two/a few (depending on budget) small easily transported but still "good" present to open at the inlaws. Don't put them under the tree, but take them as a surprise with you or have them shipped pre wrapped for when they get there.

Make it something you know they'll like in case the inlaws presents suck and that will give the kids something to do while visiting but that posts well. lego/books/board or card games, things they can do with their Grandparents to make the visit more fun & that are all easily shoved in a prepaid postage box & sent back home.

Why not let the in laws have a nice Christmas & have the fun of opening presents with their Grandkids & still control the amount of crap you have to lug across country.
posted by wwax at 8:04 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am a firm believer that it is Christmastime and thinking spreading it over the week is really fun.

I think checking bags for gifts is a bit crazy in this era of flying. They charge for everything! I say bring one bag of gifts (include a couple things that will be great entertainment on the flight back home).

You can then tell the kids that Santa might have brought presents to your house, too. (Last thing before your trip to the airport is someone running back in the house and putting them under the tree!) Then when you come home from your trip. Yay! Another surprise.

If you don't want to say Santa left presents there and at home, you can do what we did. We always had from-Santa-presents and from-parents-presents. It helped since we are a blended family, and we could have different Christmas presents in different places. And that way kids got a chance to practice be gracious with us for the parents gifts.
posted by beccaj at 8:14 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone saying that this is fully ridiculous and impractical. But as far as I can tell, Christmas is a ceremony. To your mother-in-law, opening the presents is part of that ceremony. It's not expected to be practical; it's a ritual, it's expected to be the same.

For her, opening 1-2 presents each might be like proposing to have a wedding without some key weddingy component. It's part she wants to be there for, and that she presumably was looking forward to. It's part of having Christmas at her place and it's for her, not y'all.

So I think this might fall under wedding ettiquette. If you can live with it, the person who wants the big ceremony pays for the big ceremony, helps out with making it happen, etc.
posted by aniola at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I mean the flip side of this is that you have your own ritual for Christmas, but everyone else has that pretty well covered.
posted by aniola at 8:31 AM on November 28, 2016

Tell MIL that you can't bring them all - several are too bulky to pack and travel with, would cost an arm and a leg to check into luggage, and you'll have much more to return home with too. But to compromise, you can bring a few of the small ones for the kids to open at her place, and add to the fun!
posted by lizbunny at 8:40 AM on November 28, 2016

No, whatever works best for you guys and the kids is the best choice. Opening before or after the trip, or bringing one small gift with you, or bringing everything-- they're all necessary to some people and impossible for others. MIL doesn't get to make that call as she is not taking charge of gifts on top of travel.

We haven't flown for Christmas but have done long car trips, and even then we don't bring everything. We usually bring one or two things that we think will make the trip go easier.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:45 AM on November 28, 2016

This is your partner's mom, right? So your partner needs to step in and handle it from here, with any/all of the reasons presented above.
posted by mochapickle at 8:58 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Online shopping – only have to carry the loot back home.
posted by zeikka at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2016

When I was a kid, we spent every Christmas at my grandparents' house six hours away. We would always open presents on the 23rd and have a special dinner (usually Mexican food) for just the four of us. Any gift that was too large to travel with was opened before Christmas. We would take a few gifts and all the stocking stuff with us. Once we started shopping online, my mom would have the gifts shipped to my grandparents' house. We were traveling by car, though. It sounds like a logistical nightmare to lug everything there and back. Bring a few small gifts to open on the day. It will be fine.
posted by Aquifer at 9:11 AM on November 28, 2016

Can you request that your out-of-town family ship their presents for you to your house? A few small items that won't add major bulk to your luggage could be set aside to open at their place.

I fully recognize that a lot of parents (of now-adult children) and relatives seem to forget all about being reasonable, and think it's your job to wrangle small children and a car full of crap for *their* convenience. All you owe these people is an explanation of why you're going to do things the reasonable way.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:14 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The one time that we spent Christmas at my parents' house 1300 miles away, we shipped out some of the kids' gifts ahead of time for Christmas morning (so they wouldn't wonder why we stiffed them), and then shipped back larger boxes of all the gifts together when we left. I think we brought their stockings with us and the kids hung them up on the fireplace on Christmas Eve and everything.

I freely admit that it helps that my dad is in the business, so he got everything packed and labeled and delivered to our house. But I had worked it out with them ahead of time. And TBH I think we bought fewer things that year: the kids were small (maybe like four years and six months?) so it was easier to do this. We did let them keep smaller stuff, so that there would be novelty on the plane ride.

I very much miss Christmas in my home town, but we haven't been back in almost 15 years, and even as I resent it a little I still recognize what a TREMENDOUS pain in the neck it would be today (ages 17, 14, 12, and 8 years). It's you-and-your-spouse's call to make, however, since you're the ones hauling the bags and explaining things to the kids.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:16 AM on November 28, 2016

Agree that your partner should be the one negotiating this, not you. BUT - if seeing the kids open gifts is THAT important, can you video or Skype or facetime during the gift-opening, so they can enjoy that part before y'all arrive? Hauling that much stuff in a car is bad enough (like we did growing up) but flying? Oh hell no.
posted by jhope71 at 9:23 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

You guys don't need to explain or tell her anything. Show up with whatever you had planned on before you were informed of her assumption. She's not Queen of Christmas.

(If she just came up with this idea without thinking it through and might be mildly disappointed, that's one thing. If she's really demanding that Christmas be Her Way and will give you guys grief, that's something to keep in mind for future years.)
posted by sageleaf at 9:24 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's completely crazy to lug all your kids' presents onto an airplane and back again. You know it is.

Your spouse should be the one who tells your in-laws that you aren't hauling all the presents to their house.

posted by Aizkolari at 10:02 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just to offer an alternate view, we did this every year growing up - presents all ended up at grandparents' house halfway across the country and then were all transported back home. As I got older and saw it happen with my younger cousins I always questioned the logistics (yes, lots of online ordering) but my mother told me she remembered driving to her grandparents' house pulling a freaking UHaul trailer of presents because that Christmas morning surprise was what her father (my grandfather) loved. And my God did he LOVE Christmas. He died last year and we spent a lot of time at the funeral remembering all those Christmas mornings, which will stay with all of us way after we've forgotten all the crazy fights and late night Santa-present assembly sessions.

Just to be clear, I am agreeing with everybody - please don't knock yourself out and bring huge loads of presents! But, like aniola said, this is about traditions and it just sounds to me like your mother-in-law wants to experience some sort of tradition with her grandkids. What a great opportunity for your partner to talk with their mother about what they remember about Christmas and how they want their own kids to remember it. Maybe you guys could start a tradition like having cinnamon rolls for breakfast or sitting around looking at family pictures before opening presents, something that could be done in future Christmases by both sides, no matter where you end up from year to year. I mean, who remembers the contents of that big pile of presents when they were five anyway?*

*The LiteBrite was cool, but that's all I remember
posted by theweasel at 10:52 AM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

An observation that 10+ years of doing what you're about to do yielded for me: It can feel really weird to step forward and call the shots on things like this, especially when you're on the guest end of a visit and worry about inconvenience, offense, etc., anyway under those circumstances.

But if your gut tells you that your decision will make the trip easier on you and your family, push past the weird feeling. You'll have a better time. Anyone who creates a fuss about your decision is proving themselves worthy of nothing beyond the efforts you are already making to be there at all.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:01 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you married to my husband? This sounds very reminiscent of my MIL. For us Santa delivers to the home of the grandparent we are visiting (often times in nondescript boxes from online ordering places that grandparents spirit away for us). Each kid gets one or two smallish things from mom and dad (also shipped to our destination). Gifts from the family we are not visiting with (we alternate years with in-laws and family of origin), get opened before we leave our home. Because we also have to travel between MIL and FIL's place-in the same state but hours apart-gifts get shipped home sometime during the second leg of our journey. We've tried brining an extra bag, but with 4 people's stuff for a week of time, it's just not feasible. My parents often insist on taking care of packing and shipping gifts back to us as part of their gift. I totally appreciate it.

It is a pain. It makes me want to pull my hair out when MIL invariably chooses something large and unwieldy (Minnie Mouse toy upright vacuum cleaner?! from a garage sale?!), but it is one of those things we do so the kids have time with their extended family.
posted by goggie at 12:19 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Having weathered the in-laws with um, SPECIAL expectations of how to properly celebrate holidays for nearly two decades now, I will just emphasize the point already made by several commenters. YOU decide what presents you are giving your children and on what timetable. Those that you wish to bring with you, bring with you. Those you choose leave at home to open later have nothing to do with your MIL. It's not even a point for discussion. If she presses the point, that's a great opportunity for her actual kid to run interference for you.

By the time you get through with all the local family members who will also be giving your kids gifts, there will be a nice robust pile to make it all look very generous. It's enough that you'll have to schlep all that home with you. My in-laws were always very good about giving a relatively small gift that could be transported home easily, or left as something special to play with at Grandma's (and then would make a separate gift of a contribution to the college funds) and it's definitely OK to bring up that suggestion if asked what your child would like. I wouldn't insist, though, if they don't ask. They just may find that you leave behind items that are impractical to bring home.

Over the years I definitely found it preferable to ship gifts we were planning to give our kids and local family to the location directly, or to purchase them after arriving, especially after the year that the duffel containing all the gifts was the one that ended up in the wrong place and had to be picked up a few days later at the airport. Do prepare to have an extra bag, though. It makes for a nice surprise if you turn out not to need it.
posted by gateau at 2:36 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

We do "home Christmas" where we open from my in-laws and us, usually the weekend after school goes on break and the kids have ALL THAT ENERGY. Then they play with the new toys a few days of vacation before we go to my parents' for Christmas day, where they do presents from my family and Santa presents. We usually try to pick one of the most special presents to be from Santa, that we know everyone would like to see them open, but this is totally dictated by logistics and size, hauling presents around is a PITA. We also do fancy envelopes with pictures of large presents if necessary.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:49 PM on November 28, 2016

I agree with all the commentators that you should do what makes sense for your immediate family, and stand up (or have your husband stand up) to your MIL. But to answer the initial question about what other families do - growing up, we had Christmas with the extended family a flight away every other year or so, and my parents did bring presents for me and for each other with us, and usually also brought the presents from the other side of the family as well if they were small. It always involved checking a few bags, but wasn't the logistical nightmare that others here seem to be suggesting - maybe that's the result of it being easier with one kid? Anything impractically large, we went with a wrapped photo of the item at home. This was before online ordering, so it could be even easier now. I enjoyed getting the same experience/tradition of a small Christmas morning with my parents that we had at home, in addition to the large extended family Christmas Eve.

Nthing the suggestion of reminding the grandparents to keep in mind that you'll be traveling when purchasing gifts, it was definitely my experience that people don't always remember that and get inappropriately large or non packable things. We had to immediately regift a few items that we couldn't pack and it didn't make sense to ship.
posted by purplevelvet at 3:13 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, btw, as the farthest travelers to most of our family Christmases, after making clear the first couple years that gifts had to be able to TRAVEL BACK with us or else should be shipped to our house direct from the store before or after (I mean give us the picture cut out of a catalog and have the store mail it in January, that's fine!), we stopped worrying about hauling stuff back on our own and anything that was too large, we just left, and told people to bring it down for us when they next visited. Which is a DOUBLE GUILT PUNCH about how I totally told you not to get me something too big for my trunk, AND how I do 75% of the visiting and the concentrated relatives nucleus doesn't come down to me nearly as often.

(Obviously we prioritize packing the kids' presents, but the outdoor side table for us we figured we could live without until someone came down in April or something.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:55 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Tell your MIL you'll be doing a pre- or post-Christmas at home where you'll give your kids the gifts from you, and that you can't bring too much with you on the plane so she should plan to pack up the opened gifts from her after Christmas and ship them to your house.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:12 PM on November 28, 2016

I have no faith in the airlines when it comes to regular luggage, much less anything imbued with meaning by my (not so little) offspring. So I would USPS presents back and forth. Anything irreplaceable (Grandma's homemade quilt, Dad's childhood model car set) would stay at home.

Ask yourself this: will my child be upset if her presents are lost in the mail? Keep most of them at home.
Holidays are memories, not mementos. Take photos and videos, get the in-laws and kids together for activities, make this the Christmas tradition. Less bows and boxes, less clutter in the closet, more connections.
posted by TrishaU at 6:30 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

One more: are the kids old enough to make / share gifts with their grandparents? Another photo opportunity as they make sugar cookies / tree ornaments, or play small musical instruments, or make an art project -- together. It's not spending money on a big stash. It's spending time with the ones you love.
This may be the opportunity to shift attention from "huge-pile-of-gifts scene" to "what will the kids remember 20 years from now?"
posted by TrishaU at 6:41 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

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