When you live far from the place where you grew up, holidays mean freedom from traditional obligations. Without family or in-laws nearby, you can lay a Martha Stewart-inspired Thanksgiving table or eat KFC standing up in front of the sink. You can open presents on your own schedule - no arguing about whether Christmas Eve or morning is the right time. No fighting about whose turn it is to host. You can sleep in. You can go to the movies. No one will complain that you let them down.
I know my preference for holidays free from family is not typical, possibly even unhealthy. It's not that I don't love my family and wish we could be together - I do and I do. But, as this site attests, not all my family holiday memories are rosy. A lot can go wrong - and frequently did. Why push it? I make it a point to see my family several times a year. The holidays are not included in those times.
While others brave pat-downs and blizzards to get to their loved ones, I give a Mona Lisa smile when asked if I'll be visiting family. But I'm quick to point out that I always hated traveling over the holidays. Both my sister and a cousin got married over Thanksgiving weekends, in New York and Milwaukee, respectively. I understand the thought process behind their decisions. I myself got married over a July Fourth weekend. But that no longer seems like such a great idea. (Neither does marriage, but that's another story.)
Of course, now 'tis always the season for crammed flights, delays and jacked-up hotel rates. You don't have to wait for the holidays to suffer like it's the busiest travel day of the year. The airlines are working overtime to make every day a holiday - in the hellish sense, that is. Parents with young children no longer get to board early. No one gets a pillow. Food selection is comparable to your local 7-11, but two or three times the price, and exact change please.
Back in my married days, we always traveled for Thanksgiving, to somewhere a drive or train ride away from Los Angeles: El Encanto in Santa Barbara, the Ojai Valley Inn, the stupendous Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. These beautiful spots were well worth the price. Turkey in a hotel restaurant is always without tears because you don't know anyone else in the room.
These days, I do spend Thanksgiving with family - other people's family. For the past five years, several dear friends have graciously invited me to share the table with them and theirs. The holiday tension in these homes is minimal. I talk to my own family in the morning, then hop in the car. I bring some home-baked food, help with clean-up, and in between bask in a family environment that, although not my own, is warm and welcoming. And not the slightest bit hellish.