Tradition (truh-dish-uhn): A long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting. — Dictionary.com
For many of us, especially during the holidays, "tradition" becomes synonymous with "expectations." They can include drinks with the neighbors (whether we like them or not), the unwrapping of presents at a dictated time and an annual dinner (always overcooked) at Aunt Edna's.
For some, such traditions are integral parts of the fabric of the season. For others, though, the prospects are daunting, enough that switching off the alarm and staying under the duvet seems like a viable option.
For the latter group, those who eschew the adage that "there's no place like home for the holidays," there are options and alternatives that allow for the creation of new family traditions well away from familiar places.
St. Augustine, Fla.
Colonists in America's oldest city, founded in 1565, used to mark the holidays by displaying lit candles in their windows. Nowadays, locals use electricity for their Nights of Lights celebration.
From Nov. 19 to Jan. 31, 3 million bulbs (only white by city ordinance) will illuminate St. Augustine's historic district, making the city, according to National Geographic, one of the 10 best places in the world to view holiday lights. Stroll the streets arm in arm or take a narrated tour in an electric minibus.
Between Dec. 17 and 24, the Dow Museum of Historic Houses presents "Homes for the Holidays." Visitors can tour the various properties, built between 1790 and 1910, each decorated as they would have been for their first Christmases.
Gold Tours: 904-325-0547, staugustine
Cape May, N.J.
Left largely unscathed by superstorm Sandy, Cape May affords visitors an opportunity to experience a Dickens Christmas without crossing the Atlantic. Glimmering garland, glowing gas lamps and Victorian homes create an inviting holiday atmosphere from mid-November into the New Year.
For kids, there are trolley rides during which Mrs. Claus shares seasonal stories and songs. For adults, local thespians lead a "ghosts of Christmas past" tour.
Nov. 23 through Dec. 30, Cape May Stage presents "A Tuna Christmas," a comedy about holiday turmoil in which a Scrooge-like character is stealing a town's decorations.
The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities has a thorough list of activities at its website: capemaymac.org/christmas.html. Phone 800-275-4278, ext. 158.
Smugglers' Notch, Vt.
If snow is a prerequisite for a satisfying holiday getaway, consider Smugglers' Notch, a resort community in northern Vermont.
For the past 14 years, SKI Magazine has ranked Smuggs, as it's called, the No. 1 destination for family ski activities. The resort's Snow Sport University has programs for children from 6 weeks (really!) to 17.
On Christmas Eve, Santa arrives amid carolers and makes time to listen to the kids' last-minute wishes. Instructors from the university present a torchlight parade. There also are fireworks.
One week later, the celebrations continue all day on New Year's Eve.
Smugglers' Notch Resort, 800-419-4615, smuggs.com.
Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania-New Jersey
This one is for the history buffs. In a classic sneak attack, troops from the Continental Army defeated the king's soldiers after a crossing of the icy Delaware River, led by Gen. George Washington, on Dec. 25, 1776.
Each Christmas afternoon, re-enactors dressed in period uniforms make the crossing from Pennsylvania to New Jersey in three replica Durham boats. (The original crossing, by the way, was at night.)
Before and after the crossing, there are speeches (including one by Washington) and other activities at Washington Crossing Historic Park, on the Pennsylvania side.
Across the river, at New Jersey's Washington Crossing State Park, the events of what are known as the war's "Ten Crucial Days" are interpreted at a museum.
Guests also can tour the Johnson Ferry House, an early 18th-century farmhouse and tavern not far from the river. Historians believe the house, with its period furnishings, was probably used by Washington and other senior officers after their daring Christmas night crossing.
Washington Crossing Historic Park (Pa.), 215-493-4076, ushistory.org/wash
ingtoncrossing; Washington Crossing State Park (N.J.), 609-737-0623, http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html.
Members of the Russian Orthodox church continue to use the old Julian calendar, so they don't celebrate Christmas until Jan. 7.
Intrepid visitors to this remote island community (population nearly 9,000) are treated to a weeklong Feast of the Nativity. There are special church services, a feast and, on the 7th, a "starring" of the nativity to share the joy of Christmas.
The activities center on the town's St. Michael's Cathedral, a repository for Russian Orthodox art and church artifacts. Visitors are welcome to participate in the various activities. However, during the winter, tours of the cathedral must be arranged (by phone) in advance.
Sitka's lights and decorations remain on display through Russian Christmas.
For a schedule of events, call St. Michael's at 907-747-8120; visitors bureau, 800-557-4852, sitka.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun