There's no place like home for the holidays. Right? Well, yes and no.
Certainly everyone thinks of their families during this season. And many long to be with them. But with the kids grown and cast hither and yon it's not always possible, or practical. How often we think of the ``good old days'' when we did, in fact, make it to grandmother's house for Christmas dinner.
But let's be realistic. If those days are gone, that's still no reason to mope around eating a frozen chicken pot pie while watching the Macy's parade.
There are wonderful, festive things all about. Some may be as close as your home town, church, or nearest city.
From the stack of offerings that have piled up on our desks of late, here are a few that sounded good to us. So grab a friend, family member, or go it alone, and telephone your next of kin when you get back and tell them all about it.
Christmas in Alabama. The ``Christmas on the River'' celebration in Demopolis, Ala., has been going on since 1972. It's been growing every year. Here, the brightly lighted floats actually float! - down the Tombigbee River. In the evenings, Santa's sleigh, choo-choo trains, 25-foot elves, and animated floats all light up, with glitter, and reflect in the nighttime parade. Fireworks, a parade with children in papier-m^ach'e costumes, and an exhibit of more than 100 handcrafted items are part of the fun. Festivities begin each year on the Sunday before the first Saturday in December. Write Christmas on the River, PO Box 667, Demopolis, AL 36732; or call (205) 289-0270.
Closing the generation gap. Grandtravel, a division of the Ticket Counter in Chevy Chase, Md., has put together a trip to San Diego and Los Angeles for grandparents and their grandchildren. Included are guaranteed grandstand seats for the Tournament of Roses Parade, with a behind-the-scenes look at how the flower-covered floats are put together. Also, there's a trip to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, Disneyland, Universal Studios, the luxury liner Queen Mary, and Howard Hughes's famous ``Spruce Goose.'' Throw in a New Year's Eve party and some great eating all along the way, and the kids will still be home before school starts again. Grandparents can be any age. Grandchildren should be between 7 and 14. The trip starts in San Diego Dec. 26 and ends in Los Angeles Jan 3. All-inclusive rates are $1,480 per person, double occupancy from Maryland. For further information, call 800-247-7651.
Plantation Christmas in Virginia. Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg, Va., is only an hour's drive from Washington, D.C. For those who miss the nostalgia of an old-fashioned Christmas, this may be for you. The classic Greek Revival plantation is decorated in Victorian splendor with aromatic boxwood, arrangements of magnolia leaves, and an old-fashioned Christmas tree laden with ropes of popcorn and paper chains. All decorations are handmade and have been carefully researched from memoirs of the original owners. Special candlelight tours take place Saturday evenings. Regular tours run throughout the day until Dec. 27. The cost is $6 and $5, respectively. Cookies and cider complete the event. Call (703) 777-3174 for more information.
Smells of gingerbread and sea air. Christmas by the sea in Mystic, Conn., combines the aroma of gingerbread and salt air. Guided tours on land and ship are popular here. A ``Star of Bethlehem'' show at the planetarium is another attraction. And, if you act quickly, there may be tickets left for the popular Lantern Light Tours, led by costumed guides from Dec. 5 to 21. Christmas season brings a delightful flavor all its own to this seaport town. Information is available about these and much more from Public Affairs, Mystic Seaport, PO Box 6000, Mystic, CT 06355.
Anchorage historic open house. Dog sleds, ice fishing for trout, and a visit to the world's only musk ox farm or a tour of a gold mine are all part of the holiday season in Anchorage, Alaska. There's also a tour of the community's historic houses from mid- to late December, beginning at the office of Anchorage Historic Properties. Don't forget your mittens!
Larimer Square in Victorian dress. Cars and buses give way to Newfoundland dog carts and pony wagons in Denver's Larimer Square for four consecutive weekends through Dec. 19-23. It's the 22nd annual Christmas Walk. Time to view the square's Victorian buildings, decked in their holiday finest, and listen to the strolling choirs, or watch the jugglers, mimes, and puppeteers. Pick up a cup of cider and a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts on the way to the Parade of Lights on the 11th and 12th or the 200 horns in the Tuba Choir on Dec. 20.
Boston's Yellow Pages talk. If you're thinking of Boston for the holidays, there's a way to get in touch with your specific field of interest. Larry Meehan, director of tourism at the Greater Boston Convention & Tourist Bureau, suggests calling the Talking Yellow Pages. Here's how it works: After dialing the main number - (617) 972-6000 - the following code will connect you directly with your specific interest: dance/theater, 7620; music, 7635; museums, 7635; sports, 7640; and special events, 7630. Don't forget First Night, Boston's celebrated New Year's Eve feast of the arts, listed in the American Bus Associations' ``100 Top Events of North America.''
Holidays at Williamsburg. If it's too late to make the annual Grand Illumination at Colonial Williamsburg, Va., on Dec. 13, not to worry. There's much to do here throughout the holiday season. Fine dining is always available in Raleigh Tavern, King's Arms Tavern, Christiana Campbell's, and Chownings. But if you want to know more about the food beyond taste, there are three-day, two-night packages of tours and demonstrations, and an illustrated lecture on ``Hospitality Williamsburg Style: Setting a Fine Table.'' It focuses on meals and their preparation 200 years ago, as compared with today. Beginning Jan. 29-31, it is repeated on Feb. 12-14 and 26-28 and March 4-6 and 11-13. For details, call (804) 229-1000.
Traditional Christmas in Amish country. There may be a lesson in sharing part of the season in a rather quiet Amish fashion. This may be observed in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Here, these religious people celebrate the Christmas season in a simple way. There is no Christmas tree, Santa Claus doesn't arrive, and there's little in the way of ceremony. No garish decorations, plastic reindeer, or colored lights here. Decorations are simple swags of pine and a few candles. The focus is on family and kinship. The few if any gifts given are usually homemade. Old, or Second, Christmas on Jan. 6 is observed by most of the Old Order Amish. For tours and information on the area, contact Maria DiBattista, Public Relations Specialist, at (717) 299-8901.