By Patty Gianeskis
Home for the holidays. Don’t those words paint a happy picture? Just imagine: In the living room is a giant tree laden with ornaments and presents piled underneath. Garlands and swags hang from banisters and mantles. Candles flicker in every window and hundreds of lights glow outside. It is a scene worthy of a Christmas card. But sometimes people find themselves lodged “at the inn” instead. Usually it’s only for a few days because Grandma’s house couldn’t fit everyone. Christmas is a time for joy, and even if you’re an out-of-towner, whether for one night or many, you can still have a holiday that is merry and bright.
It is possible to enjoy holiday warmth and homey touches right in your hotel or motel room. Battery-operated candles provide the flicker of a flame; big, festive bows can be tied around lamps in the room; inexpensive garland may be tied from floor lamps and sconces; and ornaments can dangle from door handles. If you have Christmas cards with you, place them around the room or pin them on the curtains. (It’s always best to ask for permission first.) A pretty basket of fresh fruit can serve the dual function of décor and snacks, and few things are as cheerful as a plate of Christmas cookies. Just be sure to store them in air-tight containers to keep things fresh.
If the hub of activity for your holiday is at the home of a relative or friend, many of your activities may have been planned for you. There’s the annual bingo tournament, caroling through a nursing home, or maybe even a snowball fight. Will you go with others to pick out a Christmas tree? Sometimes having a place away from the crowd can be a welcome retreat. You may not enjoy Bingo. You might rather be in your hotel room listening to Christmas music or watching a classic holiday movie (“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”). Keep packages of hot chocolate mix near the coffeemaker in your room. Bring your favorite bubble bath to help you relax. Make sure you have some good books. Take some time to read the Christmas story in the Bible (Luke 2:8–14).
If you are in an unfamiliar town, find out how the locals celebrate. All towns have holiday traditions. Call the local chamber of commerce for suggestions, and to find out the days, times and locations of special events. Is there a particular neighborhood known for its light displays? Is one of the local churches planning a performance of Handel’s Messiah? Many towns have Christmas parades. Is there an arts center where they will be performing The Nutcracker ballet? Take a walk down Main Street for some fun window shopping. This is the time of year when shops, both large and small, put out their most lavish displays.
Christmas dinner may well be a highlight of your stay. If so, ask the hostess how you can help her prepare for the feast. You may be invited over one afternoon to help bake cookies or pies. You probably won’t have an oven for baking rolls in your hotel room, but you can pick up any number of helpful food items from a grocery store in advance. (Make sure they don’t need special storage you can’t provide.) Do busy mothers need help entertaining the children? Invite the kids outside for a candy cane hunt, a walk around the block, or to build a snowman.
If you aren’t having Christmas dinner with family and friends, you’ll need to find a place to eat. Ask if there is a special buffet being served at the hotel or nearby. Personnel at the hotel will be able to give you some recommendations for nice restaurants. You may need to make reservations since many people will eat out that day. Depending on your location, holiday hours may limit the number of available restaurants. Don’t wait until the last minute to make dinner plans.
Depending on the length of your stay at the hotel, you may get acquainted with the staff. Make the holiday special for those who have to work during Christmastime by always being pleasant, gracious and patient. Surprise employees with a small gift on Christmas morning, such as a small cup from a local thrift store filled with wrapped candies. Wrap the cups in colored plastic and tie with a pretty bow to enhance your small gesture. What a thoughtful way to say, “Thank you for making my holiday stay so nice.”
Above all, remember you don’t have to be at home to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the light of the world. “Then Jesus spoke again saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)
About the author: Patty Gianeskis is a guest services assistant with the Advent Christian Village Conference & Retreat Center. Prior to moving to ACV in 2007, Patty worked as a travel agent for 13 years and also traveled extensively with her husband, spending many holidays away from home.