Travel at Christmas (Without Leaving Home)

Pet Travel Thursday

Destination: Christmas

Book(s): A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, illustrations by Beth Peck (2006); Celebrate Hanukkah: With Light, Latkes, and Dreidels by Deborah Heiligman (2008); and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illustrations by Brett Helquist (2009).

By Pamela Douglas Webster

Christmas is a time of joy.

The hunt for the perfect tree.

But it’s not only unmixed blessings. The holidays also bring loneliness, a feeling of exclusion, and loss for many. How could it not? Christmas is the most-hyped holiday on the planet. Marketers and advertisers make their money creating dissatisfaction they claim only their products can sate.

I’ve tried to create meaning and happy memories through unconventional holiday travels, stepping outside the crazy, commercial rush of the season.

Travel to Christmas Past

Every Christmas morning I make breakfast and we sit by the tree while my husband reads Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory out loud.

The semi-autobiographical story of Sook, Buddy (Capote’s character in the story), and Queenie the Fox Terrier getting ready for Christmas is a fond favorite. As my husband reads about the oddly-matched cousins wheeling a damaged baby buggy into the woods searching for a perfect tree while their faithful dog sniffs and plays, I travel back in time.

I remember searching for our own trees with our dogs: first with Agatha and Christie, then with Shadow, and finally, accompanied by Honey.

My memories of each dog who has accompanied us on our travels brings sadness, along with the happy look back.

Capote’s look back to Monroe, Alabama, his last happy Christmas, and his memory of his true friend, Sook Faulk, is also wistful. And exquisitely beautiful. His introduction of his dear friend is bittersweet.

We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend.

First published in Mademoiselle magazine (my, how things change) in 1956, A Christmas Memory has never been out of print. The children’s book includes lovely illustrations by Beth Pack and comes with a CD of the story read by actress Celeste Holm.

Lighting the menorah on the third day.

Travel Across Cultures

While living in Philadelphia, I joined a voluntary simplicity group supporting lives that were outwardly simple but inwardly rich.

One December, a friend in the group decided to embrace her cultural heritage and celebrate Hanukkah while saying good by to secular Christmas celebrations.

Hanukkah, in its nearness to Christmas on the calendar, has become inflated in importance, as if in self-preservation against the Yuletide behemoth. As my friend read the story of the Maccabee resistance to the Greek invasion and the rededication of the Temple, we smiled at the irony of Hanukkah becoming more “Christmas-like” over time.

The beauty of the candles, the crispy deliciousness of latkes, and the fun of spinning a wooden top were pure and simple pleasures. As my friend traveled forward by embracing her cultural heritage, we were honored by her sharing the journey with us.

National Geographic, in its Holidays Around the World Series, published Celebrate Hanukkah: With Light, Latkes, and Dreidels. It’s a paperback book suitable for children with the lovely photographs you’d expect from Nat Geo of Hanukkah celebrations around the world.

Travelers Come to Us

International House in Philadelphia provides housing, help, and multicultural activities for visiting students and scholars from around the world. Each year, they put out a call for families to host a few residents on Christmas day.

A Japanese Christmas ornament.

The first year in our new home, an MBA student from Taiwan, a Japanese undergraduate, and two Japanese high school students brought international travel to our home.

The Japanese students wished us “Meri Kurisumasu” but were startled that everything in the city was closed. In Japan, Christmas Eve is celebrated as a romantic holiday, more like Valentine’s Day in the U.S.

Although Taiwan, like Japan, has a small Christian minority, more of the secular trappings of the holiday appear there, including Santa hats, reindeer, and Christmas pageants. But in neither country is Christmas a national holiday and businesses remain open.

We spent the afternoon laughing and sharing, with conversation ranging from the proper pronunciation of Godzilla to romantic displays of affection (not commonly seen in Asia and a surprise to our friend from Taiwan).

Opening our home to these travelers gave us a window to other lands, thanks to our new friends.

If I were to host another cross-cultural Christmas, I might suggest reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (picture book edition). I have a feeling our Japanese high school friends would have enjoyed the Christmas ghost tale.

Bringing Christmas Home

The December holidays embrace travel—whether journeying back in memory to a simpler time, moving forward to embrace new cultural traditions, or welcoming travelers into our home.

Traveling through the pages of a book, though, is my favorite type of holiday travel. And it’s always pet friendly.

I’ve illustrated this post with photos from Flickr used under the Creative Commons license. Click on the picture to learn more about the photographer and the image. The book titles are links to allow you to buy them at Amazon. If you buy though this link, you won’t spend any more but we’ll make a small commission to help cover blogging costs. Thank you.


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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

7 thoughts on “Travel at Christmas (Without Leaving Home)

  1. What nice traditions! I never knew that Truman Capote wrote about Christmas. I bet that’s a story that even I, speaking from deep humbuginess, could enjoy.

    1. Edie: Actually it was made into a TV movie way back in the 70’s I think, and that is how I was introduced to it. Since then, I’ve also read it. And, like Jessie, I appreciate having my Christmas reading expanded beyond Grinch, Dickens and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas!

  2. Just last week as I finished reading A Christmas Carol for the millionth time I was wondering if there were other Christmas-related books I could find to help me feel in the festive spirit. Sadly, I couldn’t find a single one that wasn’t a children’s book. Clearly, I should have asked you. I haven’t heard of Capote’s story before but will see if I can find a version on my reader. Thank you for the recommendation!

    1. When I was growing up the tradition was, Mother would read Twas the Night Before Christmas, father would read form the Bible, and when Seuss published it, I added a reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Wonderful memories.

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