CHRISTMAS. That time of year when we put our feet up, relax with a Baileys or two and enjoy a well-earned rest. Or at least it should be.
Instead, I – along with countless others up and down the land – will be spending a hefty chunk of my all too short festive break cris-crossing the country’s motorways. The reason? That age-old conundrum of trying to find a way to keep everyone happy.
It was once fairly straightforward. I would go to my parents for Christmas Day and my better half would go to hers.
It may not have been ideal, but it at least meant our respective families were content that we were spending some time with them before we met up again to have our “second Christmas” together.
Now that we’re married with twins, it’s not quite so simple. Understandably, our parents want to see their grandchildren over the festive season and share in the magic of what is such a special time for them.
That means filling the car up with petrol, packing just about everything we own into the boot (with the overspill crammed into the footwells) and ferrying ourselves to our respective parents’ homes.
This year it’s made even more complicated by the fact that both my wife and I have to work on Boxing Day. The plan we’ve thrashed out as a result is for me to take her and the children to my in-laws on the Sunday before Christmas to make the most of her time off, with me following once I finish work on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day, remarkably, won’t involve much driving – except to go a couple of miles to the local church in the morning. We will then leave the children with their grandparents on Boxing Day so we can head back across the Pennines and go to work, returning there later that evening.
Saturday morning will see us back on the road again, heading down the M1 to make it to my parents’ house in time for lunch. We will probably stay there until the Monday, before finally travelling back up to Yorkshire in time to welcome my sister, who will be with us for New Year.
In total, it means I will clock up something in the region of 650 miles over the course of a week, costing me well over £100 in petrol. But do you know the really strange thing? I don’t actually mind. Not a bit. In fact I’m positively looking forward to it.
My thinking, you see, is that this is a time when families should be together. And it’s something those of us who live miles away from our nearest and dearest need to get used to. Just because we live in different parts of the country doesn’t have to be a barrier to sharing the bits I love best about Christmas.
The family mealtimes all seated around the table, the bracing walks in the local woods, the arguments over who’s cheating at the boardgame we’ve wheeled out for the night – and, of course, the looks on our children’s faces as they unwrap the presents their grandparents, aunties and uncles and other family members have given them.
The fact that they help out with childcare means both sets of grandparents see a lot of the children over the course of the year. But Christmas is different. The rest of the year they are carers, but over the festive period they should revert to being doting grandparents lavishing them with love, attention and, yes, presents.
Then there are the practicalities to consider. Our house simply isn’t big enough to accommodate everyone and given that they would be travelling a fair distance they would need to stay over.
Our parents, on the other hand, each have two or three bedrooms to spare, as well as sizeable gardens for the children to play in. It’s much better all round.
And while the children are young we can just about get away with it. In fact, travelling all those miles in the car is a handy way of ensuring they get a nap. But when they get older I’m not sure they will appreciate being dragged to different corners of the country when they would much rather be at home playing with their presents.
So for now we should make the most of it. Each year, by the time Christmas rolls around, we are invariably missing another member of the “family” – whether they be blood relations or unofficial aunties and uncles.
My Uncle Charlie won’t be popping round for his usual Christmas Day whisky this year, while I’m at least grateful that last Christmas we were able to introduce the children to my Auntie Joan before she, too, passed away.
That is why I don’t begrudge the chaotic scenes as we try to fit everything into the car, the cost of filling up, or the many hours spent on the motorways. Once we arrive at our destination, it will all have been worth it.