THE year before I was married, as my future husband and I began to negotiate our holiday plans, he announced that we would not be leaving town for Thanksgiving. We would not be schlepping off to Houston to spend the holiday with his family or to Michigan to spend it with mine.
We were a family now, of sorts, and would have a turkey cooked in our own oven. And we'd invite friends who also favored the idea of skipping, for once, another holiday that meant being squeezed next to the uncle who overdoes the Riesling and proceeds to speak disparagingly of the Amish.
A decade later the sounds of children - not the Detroit Lions - fill the house. I no longer serve those dinner rolls that come frozen in a package that you have to smack against the edge of the sink to open. And the guests around the table have changed: people we've known for years, people we've never met (dragged along by mutual friends) and occasionally Christie the roving photographer, who either shows up at the last minute or sends a winsome e-mail message from some place like Oman instead.
It's a New York holiday, and we like it just fine.
It's the kind of decision many New Yorkers whose roots are outside the city are compelled to make around the holidays: whether to go home (where the relatives are) or to stay home in the city.
Many will forgo fights with baggage claim and sleeping arrangements gone bad to stay in New York, no matter how un-Christmassy that may strike their families gathering back at the old homestead. Instead they will partake of some very New Yorky Christmas traditions.
They will drag a tree down a busy city sidewalk and wedge it up three flights of stairs. They will rent a season of "24," invite their friends over and further crowd their 700-square-foot apartment with piles of presents for the children. They may go see the tree at Rockefeller Center, if they can fight their way through the tourists. If it snows, perhaps they will walk through Central Park or take in the silence of a deserted Madison Avenue.
"California just doesn't do it for Christmas," said Gina Way, who traditionally passes on spending the holiday with her family in Santa Cruz, Calif., or in New Orleans, where her husband, Ben Sontheimer, grew up, in favor of their Upper West Side apartment. "My nephews ask me why I don't come anymore, and I have to make up an excuse," Ms. Way said. "I can't say, 'It's wet and cold and I really don't like your dogs.' "
On Christmas, she said, there will be music, Champagne and friends for dinner. "We do things in a more traditional way than our families do," said Ms. Way, a Los Angeles native in her 30's. "I never really liked going down to the beach at Christmas, which is what we did as a kid."
Alan Rohwer grew up on a farm in Fort Calhoun, Neb., where his family cut down a tree in the yard and pulled it into the house every year. But he has established his own Manhattan traditions. His Christmas Eve is spent eating oysters Vanderbilt at Raoul's in SoHo and singing carols at a church he selects in his neighborhood near Pennsylvania Station. He erects his grandmother's aluminum Christmas tree in his living room and each year adds an ornament "borrowed" from a tree at a fancy restaurant.
"My childhood memories of Christmas are unbelievable," said Mr. Rohwer, 40. "But I would rather spend time with my New York family now, which is my friends."
Besides, he said, much of the holiday spirit is drained out of him working as a creative director for retail clients like Versace and TSE Cashmere. In the frenzy of the shopping season, "the holidays are completely destroyed for me," he said. "The only one I love to celebrate is May Day."
For transplanted families with small children, the season can leave them torn. They may have two sets of relatives, sometimes on opposite sides of the country, to choose from. And what if a family simply decides to visit neither? That option may not only disappoint extended families, it can confuse them as well. Who would want to stay in a small Manhattan apartment, they wonder, when a suburban home with giant sledding hills and spacious playrooms was available?
Rebecca Posner would. Christmas itself is not an issue for her family, which is Jewish. But she and her husband, Matthew Butcher, and their two children, Hannah, 4, and Noah, 8, nonetheless feel the pull; his relatives in Atlanta and hers in Montreal and California always want some face time with them during that long school holiday, Ms. Posner said.
For the last five years the Posners have boarded a plane for California. "My in-laws constantly say: 'Here you will be able to relax. We'll feed you. The kids can run around outside,' " she said. "And it is more kid-friendly there."
But it's also exhausting to get there, which is why the Posners have decided to stay put in Manhattan this year. "It is not like we are making a statement," said Ms. Posner, 39. "The things for me is that when we have a bit of time off, I need a few days when you are not doing anything for anybody. I would love to see my family, but I like to just relax in my house." She added, "Getting on a plane the day after the kids get out of school is psychotic-making."
Yes, her apartment is small and her menorah may not shine brightly on the street six floors below, but she likes it all the same, she said. "This is the place we inhabit," she said, "and even though it is small, we have made it our home. I like people to respect that."
This being New York, some people stay and work. Kip Hakala, a real estate agent, wants to prepare for January, when Wall Street bonuses fuel the market. "I'm going to stay here and get organized," he said.
And Kate Lavender, 26, an actor from Ottawa, has auditions right before and after Christmas. "I am very, very close to my family," she said, "so I never had a New York Christmas. But I look forward to exploring it. For the first time the other day I went ice skating in Bryant Park. I love Central Park, and the lights. This is what I chose to do with my life, to live down here and try to be an actor, and this Christmas is part of it."
I will be thinking of her. From my in-laws', in Houston.