The holidays always brought the same things. Some might call them traditions. In all honesty, they may have simply been habits. Our kids counted on the familiarity of family dinner and church on Christmas Eve followed by one gift. Christmas morning involved opening the avalanche of presents around the tree as my husband and I sipped coffee. We enjoyed breakfast together and played with new games and gadgets. Family stopped by bearing more gifts. Who got the sweater? What was the latest, greatest toy? Was that the right cologne? Pretty special time, but also pretty predictable.
We never gave much thought to doing anything different for Christmas. We were settled in our traditions. The usual routine wouldn’t work this year, though, because our oldest daughter is doing an internship at Disney World and wouldn’t be home for the holidays. That fact forced us to open our minds to the possibility of a different kind of Christmas. We couldn’t let her spend Christmas all alone, could we? And, who can resist a trip to the happiest place on Earth?
So, the car was packed with swimming suits, shorts, running shoes and some Christmas presents. The plan included stopping along the way to visit my brothers in Nashville and Atlanta. Zane would fly from his college home in Chicago to meet Ken, Angelina and me in Florida. Mia’s job was to use her Disney expertise to plan an amazing holiday adventure in Orlando. She exceeded our expectations!
The kids were concerned that our holiday in the sun might not feel like Christmas. Mia brought a small Christmas tree to our hotel suite to add a little holiday flair. We arranged our gifts around that tiny tree in the corner. Ken and I also brought the stockings to fill–not by the chimney, but on the coffee table. Disney arranged rest of the holiday spirit.
Disney made sure that guests felt that Christmas spirit! Everywhere we looked, there were holiday decorations that fit the theme of the park or resort. Christmas trees were decorated differently and beautifully with incredible attention to detail. Hawaiian flowers on the trees at the Polynesian. Pops of color on a silver and white tree at Art of Animation. Wild animal decorations on a huge tree greeted guests at the gates of Animal Kingdom.
A giant gingerbread house decorated the lobby of the Grand Floridian. Wreaths of Mickey ears hung from lampposts in the Magic Kingdom. The Jungle Cruise was the Jingle Cruise. Epcot took us on a tour around the world with holiday traditions and treats from the different countries. Christmas music played in the background as we made our way through the parks. Children met with Santa in the lobby of our resort while sipping lemonade and sampling cookies. We didn’t have to worry about having the Christmas spirit. It was all around us. It even snowed along Main Street USA on Christmas night.
This wasn’t an ordinary Christmas for our family. We woke up early for the opening of each park and stayed until closing time. We were together–all day, every day. We watched shows, shopped for souvenirs, rode every ride–some of them twice–and ate food that was typical park food rather than a big holiday dinner. We posed for family pictures with Mickey Mouse and other characters we met on our holiday adventures. We sat down on the street behind Cinderella’s Castle to rest our aching feet. More than anything, we laughed. We laughed until our sides hurt. We laughed until tears spilled down our cheeks. Spending time as a family for Christmas was the best gift we could ever give to ourselves. We may not remember any presents in the years to come. But, we will remember the laughter and the love that defined our trip.
I couldn’t choose a favorite moment from our Christmas away from home, but there was one moment that brought tears to my eyes. We boarded the bus to return to our resort with our fellow passengers, exhausted from a full day at Epcot on Christmas Eve. The ride started along in an ordinary way with tired people quietly waiting to get to bed. Then, a man started to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The rest of the crowded, weary bus quickly joined in. For the rest of the bus ride, we sang Christmas carols with strangers from all over the world on a magical Christmas Eve. The last song before we went our separate ways was “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It was a Merry Christmas, indeed.
That, my friends, is what it’s all about. Moments. Experiences. Making memories. Sharing life.