Families Skip Christmas and Pack Their Bags!

by Lisa Moody Breslin

Griffin, Lucas, Lisa and Evyn Bass visit Disney World during the holidays in 2015.

Griffin, Lucas, Lisa and Evyn Bass visit Disney World during the holidays in 2015.

No Christmas tree, no rooftop inflatable snowman. No crowded malls, no cookie exchanges, no unwanted presents. Holiday-weary couple, Luther and Nora Krank, hatched a plan to skip Christmas one year.

Though the Kranks are the fictitious protagonists in John Grisham’s holiday novel Skipping Christmas, and their decision to forgo the holiday came at high, hilarious prices, for some Carroll County families, skipping Christmas has become a perfect reality.

They’ve cast off guilt, left their decorations packed and packed their bags for destinations like Aruba, Jamaica and Disney.

Many upend their holiday traditions as part of a mindful effort to move away from material things and closer to experiences that will yield good memories instead.

“Throughout the year, you get so caught up in life, it’s hard to even get together for dinner,” said Melissa Granger, who lives in Hampstead with her husband, Christopher. “Last year, we went to Jamaica with the family. No tree, no gifts, just the four of us got away as a family together. We got away from the phone, the chaos and we bonded. It was fantastic. That’s why we are going away again this year.”

For others, a “Pass” on the holiday happens because of the loss of a loved one; Christmas wouldn’t be the same anyway, so they opt to try something new.

In March of 2012, Lisa Bass’ husband, Sean, died of leukemia. They had three children whose ages spanned elementary and middle school.

“I was very anxious about spending Christmas at home without him and I knew it would be very, very sad, but yet I wanted to still celebrate the holiday for my kids because it’s really all about them,” said Bass. “I would have been content to stay at home in bed but I knew they wouldn’t want to spend their day like that. So I decided to go to the happiest place on earth – Disney – so they could have a great Christmas,” she added, laughing. “And it snowballed from there – we went every year.”

Lisa and her children changed other traditions the first year without Sean as well: they shifted to an artificial Christmas tree and, to circumvent daunting logistics of traveling with gifts to open on Christmas morning, Lisa had a friend place them under the tree at their home while they were gone.  The children were surprised by the Santa-like delivery.

Motives for creating new traditions, or having a holiday or two without them, vary greatly. In turn, for every family that opts out, there are still many more who couldn’t imagine Christmas without a tree, or a holiday without buying gifts.

Statistics confirm that skipping Christmas is still off most people’s radars.

According to CreditCards.com, by Labor Day last year, 32 million consumers in the U.S had already started checking items off their holiday shopping lists for 2016.

Opting out of holiday traditions often mirrors different stages of life, explained Brenda lee Von Rautenkranz, a psychotherapist in Sykesville who is also a fitness trainer.

“When we have younger ones, we’re not opting out,” said Von Rautenkranz . But as my clients move from 30, to 40, and 50 years old and their kids get older, they will go on a cruise, or go to a sister’s house rather than do things in the house.”

As folks age, it’s not uncommon to think, “I don’t want to do all this anymore. I have to work like a dog when the kids come home – and I’m not sure what they will remember or appreciate.”

“We used to spend a lot of money on Christmas; we’d go way overboard actually,” said Teresa Fenters of Manchester..  So, I said to my husband, ‘Why don’t we make memories instead of buying material things?’”

Her husband, Scott, agreed.

Before they hatched their plan to create new holiday traditions, Teresa estimates that they spent approximately $1,000 per child.

“It’s not hard to do with older ones who are into cars or hunting,” she said.

Last year, the Fenters spent approximately $367 per child, she said. This year, their holiday will cost $550 per child because they travel using mileage points.

The Fenters have four children whose ages now range from 17-years-old to 29.

The younger children balked at the thought of skipping Christmas entirely, so the group agreed to still chisel out time to have Christmas dinner with family and friends. But no gifts.

“I was a little uneasy about the idea at first,” said Blake Fenters, 19. “But it was better than usual. Presents are nice, but everybody likes a vacation at this time of year. For friends who acted surprised by our plans, I got it. Most people are just set in their ways.”

“We thought we would be sad on Christmas,” said Teresa. “But we had a nice breakfast, we sat around and talked and looked at videos while we reminisced about the trip. Everything about the experience was amazing.”

The Fenters had sowed seeds for this plan to bloom. Before their first big Christmas skip, they had practiced giving memories instead of gifts for birthdays. Concert tickets for older children; zoo memberships for younger ones.

This year the family will be off to Aruba for ten days, some of which will be set aside to attend a wedding.

Shifting holiday traditions takes better communication with family members, Von Rautenkranz said.

“Take time to ask each other what traditions really matter to them. If you feel like you have to make five pies, but now everybody is on a diet that’s a good thing to know,” said Von Rautenkranz. “I’m Italian. We start the meal with a dish of pasta, manicotti. My children ask why I keep doing it because it ruins their appetite for the main meal. But I would feel bad if that tradition was not alive. If they opt out, that’s ok. But I want to keep the tradition for me.”

“You shouldn’t dread the holidays, so do what works for your family,” Bass advised. “If that means breaking tradition, then I think it’s ok to break tradition. I probably would have felt differently before Sean died but based on my experience, I think it’s ok.”

“We have to ask each other, ‘What is important to you?’ and then build or rebuild the season accordingly,” Von Rautenkranz added.


Tips for Maintaining and Changing Holiday Traditions

  • Reduce expectations (yours and others).
  • Instead of three trees, get one.  Instead of lights around the whole house, focus on the front door.
  • Open up communication with family members. 
  • Ask what traditions really matter to them now and adjust accordingly.
  • Give yourself permission to let some traditions go and cut back on others, but hold on to daily rituals that refuel you.
  • If you quit reading at night or quit running to get ready for Christmas, then you will be five pounds heavier and probably regret all that you gave up.  If you don’t have time to read a chapter, at least read a paragraph.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
  • We often want to do everything ourselves because it makes us feel good. It is good to give and also know how to receive and in this instance, it’s time to receive in the form of assistance.
  • Plan your work, work your plan.
  • Get organized. Create a list of what is needed and create a timeline for getting through that list. 
  • Know when to say no.
  • If you have holiday parties on every Saturday, let your calendar tell you the obvious: That’s way too much. Rather than wanting to please others or not disappoint them, give yourself some calm time. Go to one less party (or two).

SOURCE: Brenda lee Von Rautenkranz, Counselor, MS, LGPC, NCC, Sykesville