First of all, in order to enjoy the blessings of kith and kin, you have to get to them, something easier said than done, since your kith and kin almost never live anywhere convenient like the airport or McDonald’s. Now this lack of availability is usually a plus; the more inconvenient the domicile, after all, the better the reasons for not going home in the first place. Distance also makes it harder for your relations to simply drop in on you and ask for money. But the situation is different during the holidays, because everyone will expect you to show up whether you want to or not. If you don’t then you, better have a good reason, preferably one that involves hospitals, doctors, and a life-threatening illness. If you are not in the hospital, you can be sure that someone will note your absence from the festivities and that this will be a source of familial contention for as long as you live. People you know and love will refuse to come to your funeral in forty years’ time because you skipped the holidays this year. So in order to keep the peace in the family, you go home.
The strange part of traveling, of course, especially if you travel by air, is that this is the time of the year where the airline industry gives its regular employees, a warm, amiable bunch of people filled with bonhomie and a willingness to help even the most clueless traveler, the entire month off and temporarily fills their positions with violent psychotics. Dealing with these people tends to be an unpleasant experience at best and you would do well to avoid them entirely, although this may be hard to do if you are going to Kansas City and your luggage, which is full of presents for all your little nieces and nephews, is now winging its way south to a sun-filled vacation in Cancun without you. The definite impression you will come away with after attempting to elicit an explanation for this phenomenon is that you are a fool, a scoundrel, and an obvious knave, that travelers are best seen in small numbers and not heard, and that not only is your presence unwelcome but if you don’t get out of the ticket clerk’s face in five seconds she will send your nephew’s G. I. Joe on to Cairo, Capetown, Copenhagen, and Canberra, for good measure. As we’ve mentioned, most of these people are not entirely in their right minds, a consequence, no doubt, of too many years spent working at the Post Office or selling life insurance.
The other problem the traveler faces is that the airports, train stations, and bus terminals are full of people in the same situation, but they are not responding to the situation with the same equipoise that you exhibit. No, these people are definitely not going with the flow, but allowing the stress and strain of modern travel effect their better judgment. People who in their daily lives are the nicest of people suddenly turn, in the heat of travel, into maddened beasts willing to throttle anyone who stands between them and their destination. These people are not sharing in the spirit of Christmas, but are using transportation hubs for the public display of their personal psychodramas in the hope of getting an agent and maybe a contract to write situation comedies for television, as if this will get them to where they are going any faster than they are already going.
Putting up with all the grief and aggravation is worth it, however, when you finally reach the safe port from which you first sallied forth into the workaday world all those many years ago. Home, at long last, home. The laughter, the tears, the joy of welcome that greets your arrival among those who love you the most—this is what the great voyage was all about, and you will enjoy the warm embrace of your family for as long as it takes for the kids to start screaming at each other because little Billy doesn’t want to play with G. I. Joe, he wants his sister’s Barbie, and your mother asks you how come you’re not married already and why don’t you call or write or send a message on one of those typewriters with the television attached like your brother has in his house. At which point your father rolls his eyes and opens up his newspaper and your brother tries to take you aside to tell you about a brand new investment tip he picked up down at Kelly's Bar and Grill and all he needs is a couple grand in order to score a huge return on the investment and you wonder why you bothered coming home in the first place. Next year, you promise yourself, you will come down with schistosomiasis or Rocky Mountain spotted fever or the bends, anything that will keep you safely situated away from these people. Next year, yes, next year, you’ll just call; it’s cheaper than actually going and you can stack the dishwasher while Mom asks when will ever see her grandchildren. The telephone is a very convenient device in these circumstances.