Last year due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to travel for the holidays. While our first Christmas in the tropics was a beautiful experience, it was still heartbreaking not to see our family. This year with everyone vaccinated and what we expected to be a decline in COVID, we booked our tickets to Buffalo. I was overjoyed to be celebrating the season with our family.
Planning travel these days is so tricky. When we booked the travel in the early fall, COVID was at pretty low rates. By December, Omicron and Delta variants were spreading like wildfire. Beyond that, my sister’s family was dealing with Pneumonia. We were able to get the kids their first dose of the vaccine. That evening PJC starting throwing up for about 5 hours. We thought it was a reaction to the vaccine. However, we were proved wrong when we all fell like dominos to the stomach bug. It took each one of us out for about 24 hours. So for the ten days, illness plagued us for the large majority of the trip. Luckily we still had a few puke free days in which we were able to celebrate the holidays.
In addition to illness, another challenge was the weather. We had our fingers crossed for a White Christmas. There were only a couple days in which we got a “dusting.” At least it was enough for PJC to get in some sledding, make a snowman and his own snow-cone! However, most of the days we cold, raining and muddy. This led to a lot of cabin fever. We braved outdoor playgrounds when we could, and we took some risks going to indoor ninja and trampoline gyms (though we felt guilty and wary the whole time because of the potential COVID spread). We did enjoy exploring the zoo lights at night and even got to meet Ana and Elsa there!
Even though it wasn’t our picture perfect holiday, we did get the opportunity to do our favorite traditions. We started the season with our favorite activity- cookie decorating with Grandma Betty. Nobody loves Christmas with Grandma Betty. We counted over 100 Santa Clauses in her house. It’s so special to be able to share the season with her. Aunt Heidi also took the lead in helping the kids decorate our own gingerbread village.
On Christmas Eve, we had our North Pole breakfast. The theme was “Let it Snow” and featured artic animals. Our family friends joined us for snowflake pancakes, minute to win it games and a snowglobe craft. On Christmas Eve night, BC cooked a feast that highlighted Panamanian flavors. We had the chance to see all of my cousins and aunts/uncles.
On Christmas morning, the kids were so excited to see that Santa had been there. The carrots they left for the reindeer were even outside with teethmarks. As always, Santa left a note for the kids telling each of them how proud he was of all their accomplishments this year. The littlest cousin wasn’t feeling well, and all the other kids were so patient in waiting to open all their gifts until everyone was ready. The boys were stoked to get their three presents: 1) a lego set, 2) a kindle fire, and 3) a trip to the Great Wolf Lodge. I think Santa was super generous this year and should probably be careful not to set such a high precedent for future years. Additionally the kids received a lot of thoughtful gifts from family and friends.
For my Christmas present, my mom bought us tickets to see Hamilton in person at Shea theater. It was jaw dropping amazing. However, for me, it’s hard to fully enjoy these things because in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about the COVID spread and feeling guilt for potentially contributing. Even though we religiously wear masks and are fully vaccinated, I am finding a balance between wanting to enjoy living life and wanting to completely hibernate.
Although it wasn’t the White Christmas we envisioned, we felt so grateful to spend it with family after being separated for so long. I don’t know that Christmas in the tropics will ever feel right to me. I love a fire and a hot cup of cocoa by the glowing tree. It was sad for our trip to come to an end, especially with the travel outlook looking so unsure and no set plan to return. Luckily, we still had one last adventure. Santa had gifted us with a stay at the Great Wolf Lodge during our layover in Atlanta. The kids had a blast doing the ropes course, playing in the arcade and spending hours going down twisty water slides. It was on their bucket list, and I think the experience delivered.
After a 7 hour delay for our flight in Atlanta, we finally made back to Panama City. We drove the 5 hours home the next day, and we were so ready to finally sleep in our own beds. I spent the next day taking down the Christmas decorations at our house. That’s always my saddest day of the year. I love the glowing joy of the Christmas season and the opportunity to spend it with our loved ones. However, I have hope that this year will bring another season of positive growth for our family. We are looking forward to new adventures.