One of my favorite Christmas songs is "I'll be Home for Christmas." It is not the happiest of Christmas carols. Instead, it is filled with longing and an almost pleasurable ache. Bing Crosby (let's be honest, that's the best version of this tune) promises he will be home for Christmas. He imagines the people, the mistletoe, and the love light beaming. But there is a major catch towards the end of this torch song for the holiday: Bing will be home for Christmas, if only in his dreams.
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Turns out, Bing isn't going home for Christmas at all.
And I get it. I really do. Because several years ago, I moved across the country, leaving behind a very tight-knit Italian family. I flourished on the West Coast, while remaining as close as I could to them (Bing did not have FaceTime, so he probably experienced more melancholia than I did – I'll give him that). But then the holidays rolled around. I missed Thanksgiving and was despondent. I knew there was no way I could survive missing Christmas.
People travel for the holidays all the time. Sure the airport would be like something out of a horror film, but I could do it...right? But it was not long after the first day of the brand new year (and the end of all things tinsel) that my credit card bill came in the mail. I learned exactly how costly returning home for Christmas – or your winter holiday of choice – can actually be.
Let’s break it down
There was the plane ticket, California to Chicago and back again, at a prime time of the year (sitting in coach, not a sleigh). I checked my bag because I was basically Santa, carting around gifts for my loved ones in a giant suitcase instead of the required velvet sack. That's $25. I considered shipping everyone's loot but I needed the space on the way back for the lovely presents bestowed on me which, of course, meant checking the giant suitcase again and another $25.
I took an uber to the airport. I could not depend on public transport before Christmas. I could not risk missing my flight: $50. When I arrived, no one could pick me up because everyone was cooking (remember, I'm Italian) and so I took a taxi to my childhood home which was another $50.
But, hark! At least I did not have to pay for a hotel. Except that is a lot of family time, during the most stressful time of the year, nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. It was family time 24 hours a day, except moments I snuck away to catch up with an old friend. But these times were not free either. Yes, it was great seeing my pals from yesteryear, but add a few dinners, a last minute hostess gift, and a movie to my every growing tab.
I also missed three days of work and that late into the year, I was out of paid time off. So I, ended up in the hole, somewhere between $1,500 to $2,000. Wow. And I'm single! What if I had a family? I needed something stronger than eggnog to swallow that number.
Here's the thing Bing Crosby will never tell you (neither will Frank Sinatra, depending on which version of the song you prefer). I love my family but I could not help but think that this was money I could put towards a nice beach vacation in the Spring. One where I would not return stressed in the way only family can truly stress a person, nor harried from the ecstasy that is dealing with the TSA at Christmastime. Imagine: the sound of waves in the air, a margarita in my hand, no plunging temperatures.
I could have gotten a tan! The parka and boots I packed would have been unnecessary!
Look, I understand why Bing (and Buble and Beiber) fantasize about going home for the holidays. After all, it is the most magical time of the year and it makes sense that we want to be with those we love. I get it. I really do! But sometimes the cost – be it monetary or otherwise – can be too high. Until I can teleport in and out for two days (and cheaply, too), each year, if I am not living in Chicago, like others who may not live down the street from their family, I will weigh that cost.
But don't worry, family. I'll see you, if only in my dreams. Just know that the price, the cost of seeing you in real life, can be more like the stuff of nightmares.