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Christmas travel in winter weather: To drive or not to drive?

Christmas travel: Sometimes the hardest decision for the holidays is whether or not to drive over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house. 

By / December 24, 2013

Winter Weather: Andrew Powers, an arborist with Asplundh Tree Experts, clears power lines from iced branches along Mayflower Heights Drive in Waterville, Maine, on December 23.

Michael G. Seamans/The Central Maine Morning Sentinel/AP

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major ice storm has taken down trees and power lines around Michigan, upstate New York, and New England, and made Christmas travel over many roads downright dangerous.

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Contributing blogger

James Norton got his professional start at the Monitor as an online news producer, before moving over to edit international news during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Since leaving the Monitor in 2004, he has worked as a radio producer, author, and food blogger. 

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Maybe it was a mistake, sticking one of our biggest, "let's get together-iest" holidays in the middle of winter, right after the solstice and smack dab in the middle of snow-, sleet-, and ice-time for much of the country. But at this point, there's no taking it back: Christmas travel comes when it comes, and we're left trying to figure out what that means.

In the Upper Midwest where I live, the general gist of weather headlines right now is "Mother Nature's Christmas present: Cold, snow." As per usual around here, the travel decision isn't an easy one, and it depends upon the distance to travel, the route, and the expected conditions.

This year's Christmas Eve weather craziness is particularly bad, but it plays up an annual discussion that I've been familiar with pretty much since birth. 

As a child, the 90 minutes from Madison, Wisc. to Milwaukee weren't too hard to manage, and my dad was always pretty determined to make the trek, but it was sometimes a fraught discussion. 

The "Do we drive for Christmas?" talk balances a lot: on one hand you've got the precious (and in some ways irreplaceable) lure of holiday time with your family, and on the other you've got the trip, which can be anything from easy to exhausting to physically dangerous, depending upon the weather and your current level of exhaustion.

Our family is wrapping up a tiring year, featuring the birth of our first baby. We're in cold and snow territory, so we're skipping the 500-mile round trip from Minneapolis to Madison – no small thing, considering that this is the first time ever my wife and I will not to be home with our parents for Christmas.

We're looking forward to a few days of rest, popcorn, jigsaw puzzles, hot cocoa, and red and green pasta for Christmas Eve, a tradition for my wife’s family. And we're really, really looking forward to not driving for five hours on sometimes dodgy roads, worried about potentially hitting an ice patch and skidding into a ditch.

That said, we're going to video chat a lot on Christmas, making at least a digital connection with all the grandparents and aunts and uncles we're missing by staying home. One of the upsides of modern technology is that while we can't yet teleport, we can at least share our voices and faces long-distance without the need to negotiate icy roads. It's not a replacement for the trip, but it's a way to be there, together, at least a little bit.

And, more heroically (or foolishly, or however you want to depict it) we'll be back down in Madison next year, to see everyone in person. It's too important a trip to give up on it for good just because it's difficult. That said: weather allowing, of course....

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