A Tale of Two Christmases
December 15, 2022 11:28 AM   Subscribe

This year, for the first time, I'll be flying long-distance with my toddler for Christmas with my extended family. I'm not interested in schlepping every single one of her gifts there and back again. I'm wondering: how did you handle this with your young family?

I will, of course, be taking gifts for my family members, and a few for her to ensure that she has some things under the tree. She's old enough now that empty boxes and crinkled paper are no longer the star of the show – she is primed for presents. But I don't want to bring the whole kit and caboodle – especially because the last time we flew, people's luggage was going missing left, right and centre.

I'm looking for stories and strategies about how your family handled flying with young kids to stay grandparents over Christmas. Did you have a separate "at home" Christmas before or after the visit? Take everything with you? Issue a "no gifts" edict? (Too late for that option, at least for this year.)

I'm tired and frazzled and would appreciate any practical suggestions and encouragement you can share. Thanks!
posted by notquitejane to Society & Culture (19 answers total)
Best answer: I distinctly remember one Christmas at my grandparents' house when I was quite small - I got a few presents there from Santa, but then among them was a letter from Santa saying that I also would see a tricycle and a few other things waiting for me when I got back to my own house "because it was a bit too big to fit in my sleigh, and I'll need to make a second trip." I think when Dad was buckling me into the car before we drove up to the grandparents', Mom was setting things up real quick in front of our fireplace for me to discover "what Santa left on his second trip" when we got back home a few days later.

I was about five, and I bought it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:35 AM on December 15, 2022 [9 favorites]

We’ve sent stuff back and forth using cheap ground shipping (gls). We are in Europe and that cost about 40 euros for a moving box sized box and took 3-5 days. Not sure if you have a similar option.
posted by catspajammies at 11:41 AM on December 15, 2022

Definitely some people in my family have just mailed big boxes of gifts to the grandparents' house ahead of the holiday.
posted by mskyle at 11:41 AM on December 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

We opened family gifts at home and Santa (+ grandparents who were there etc) magically found us at the home visited. As a result I admit I celebrate Xmas anywhere from “the weekend before my parents go to Florida for the winter” to mid-Jan, joyfully and with multiple nice meals.

As kids this also helped us not get too overwhelmed. Pro tip: leave a day or two if you can to *play* with the toys and include a toy that can be toted on the plane/in the car to come along.

Whatever you choose will be just fine.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:55 AM on December 15, 2022

Santa delivered the gifts to our home but there were a couple of small gifts from us they could open.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:12 PM on December 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

My parents pulled the same stunt as EmpressCallipygos and honestly it is one of my core childhood memories! I think I was in the starting-to-doubt-Santa phase and I was telling my parents I was watching them like a hawk, but somehow they still got the gifts under the tree without my noticing and it was magical!
posted by acidic at 12:21 PM on December 15, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'd go with gifts both before and after Xmas for the 'overkill' factor. That way you won't have to drag gifts along with you, but toddler will get THREE Xmases to celebrate. Whee!
posted by thatone at 12:27 PM on December 15, 2022

Best answer: Christmas is a season; your kid doesn't know the exact date. Have a small family xmas at home with your gifts. Then when you fly, if she gets more presents there from your extended family, those are just bonus.
posted by hydra77 at 12:51 PM on December 15, 2022

Santa visited our house on Christmas while we were at another house. This necessitated a lot of last minute gift organizing under the tree while the family was in the car waiting to leave but it worked. I also did not sweat making sure that the kids thought Santa was much more than a construct so if/when they asked if he was real, I said what did they think?
posted by RoadScholar at 1:26 PM on December 15, 2022

We're flying on Xmas day and have to travel to be close to the airport to on the 24th. Santa and our local grandparents will visit on the 23rd. We've done this enough at this point that my kids don't even flinch, and your is young enough to not even notice probably. My daughters bday is 12/28 so we have to deal with that, usually we do some gifts at my parents and and some at home. Multiple parties. I used to have gifts that I was ordering online for the kids shipped to our destination but I've stopped doing that after having to cancel plans last minute twice in the past year due to covid.
posted by snowymorninblues at 1:30 PM on December 15, 2022

My family shipped all the presents ahead. We'd always bring a folding duffel bag to fly the presents home, although this was back when checked bags were free.

As a warning, one year my mother had scored the hot toy for one of us kids, shipped the wrapped gifts ahead weeks in advance, and then...the box never arrived. This was also before tracking numbers, so she was calling the post office and then she was out on Christmas Eve trying unsuccessfully to get the hot toy.

Of course, the box arrived on Christmas morning so Christmas was apparently saved, but a scenario for your consideration.
posted by Narrow Harbor at 1:43 PM on December 15, 2022

In our house, there was only one present from Santa under the tree (a good one but not the very best) and everything else was from Mom & Dad or whoever they were actually from. At my in-laws house, their stocking was from Santa and the presents under the tree were from the real givers. This reduced the stress of traveling since we would open presents from our little family at home and those from Santa and other relatives where the only ones that needed to travel.
posted by metahawk at 3:22 PM on December 15, 2022

Best answer: Lots of folks are reading this as a question about Santa as much as a question about logistics. In terms of logistics, your choices are schlep, mail, or do a combo of opening some presents at home and some there. If you do some presents at home, it means you get to have a small family approach to opening presents, too, which can be nice. I don't know if there are cousins or other kids in the larger family, but I don't think it would be great to have different families opening all their presents together at grandparents' house. Could get awkward if one set of kids gets a lot more, you know?

In the bigger picture, I think it's great if kids grow up with the sense of Christmas being a season and time of year rather than a specific day. It gives you a lot more flexibility to be able to travel and make it what you want. Now is the time to decide what you want it to mean to you and how you want to celebrate. (It's also okay to decide not to travel for Christmas in years down the road, and presents are just one reason to avoid it.)

Also, kids often hear about Santa even if you don't really make a big thing of Santa. I tried hard not to lie to my kids and also answered, "What do you think?" when my kids asked if Santa was real. (Though one year one of my kids said, "I think Santa must be real because there's no way you and and Dad are buying all these presents." Ouch!)
posted by bluedaisy at 3:29 PM on December 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Logistics wise we traveled when my daughter was 1 and I think 3. We did carry gifts for her to the location. Tried to plan for small size things. And I think one her presents was a small backpack that just so happened to fit her other presents, which were a baby doll and microphone.

If you’ve already purchased your gifts and they won’t travel well I’d probably do the split present opening. Some there and some when you get back. I personally wouldn’t open them prior to traveling as what child will want to leave behind new toys?
posted by MadMadam at 3:34 PM on December 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

We ordered and shipped the kid presents to the grandparents house and asked them to wrap the gifts (don't forget different wrapping paper for gifts from Santa vs from you). We also just mailed the presents for adults too, it's not a big deal if they're not surprised and it was things strictly from their list anyway so it's not much of a surprise.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 3:59 PM on December 15, 2022

I agree that it can be helpful to have children growing up not pinning everything on Christmas Day. It will, in the long term, allow you so much more flexibility about how you celebrate Christmas. I think it's important that you are able to sustain your family's Santa story if you have one, and that there are 'enough' gifts that the Christmas you are going to celebrate feels like Christmas. But I wouldn't give myself a logistical headache to do that, and would lean towards having more gifts at home, with whatever feels like the right explanation for your child. If the gifts you all receive from others while you are away are going to cause problems on the way back, the for sure have them shipped home.
posted by plonkee at 9:35 PM on December 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have a sib who visits for Christmas often and gives us Amazon lists requesting presents be shipped to their home rather than try and deal with getting all the stuff in their luggage. If they buy gifts for us, they have them shipped here for the same reason. Works out REALLY well.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 6:21 AM on December 16, 2022

Forgot to mention... we don't do a whole lot of presents on Christmas, so the kids are fine with one or two (easily packable) presents under the tree and then the "big" Christmas when everyone returns to their respective homes... It's like some above who have said it's a season, not a day.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 6:27 AM on December 16, 2022

Coming back in to add how our extended family did things when I was a bit older but Santa was still A Thing.

That year I was five was one of the only memories I have of even being at my grandparents' on Christmas morning, so I think it was soon after that that we switched to this plan, as more extended family members started having their own kids and Grandma and Grandpa ran out of room to host us all...

* Christmas morning my immediate family had our Family Present Unwrapping at our home first. This included gifts From Santa when that was still a thing. My other extended family members would do the same (each set of aunt/uncles/cousins would have individual Christmas unwrappings at their respective houses).

* Then, after a breakfast, my family would all pile into the car and drive the two hours to Grandma and Grandpa's house first for yet another unwrapping of gifts to and from them all, and then we would all pile in cars and head to my Aunt Mary and Uncle George's house across town, where the big family unwrapping would occur. George and Mary had a huge house and so that became the In-Family Bed And Breakfast, where the adults would start helping Mary get dinner together and the kids would all hole up in one of the cousins' rooms and compare notes about "what did Santa get for you?"

* At some point would be the rest of the family unwrapping, followed by dinner, or vice-versa.

* Grandma and Grandpa would head home to their own house, our aunt Susan would head home to her own house, and the rest of the cousins/aunts/uncles would collapse in their respective rooms for the night.

My point being that since we all lived close-ish enough to travel to my extended family on Christmas Day, we all started just doing that - immediate family Christmases at our respective houses, along with unwrapping any presents from Santa or other mysterious gift-givers, then the extended family Christmas that afternoon when we all were in the same place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on December 16, 2022

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