Family gatherings are a natural part of the holidays, but so are all the planning, hard work and stress that it takes to host that kind of reunion.
Rather than cleaning the whole house before the relatives come, spending the whole holiday itself in the kitchen and then mopping up afterward, some folks take a different path.
The Stanley family of Santa Rosa, for example, decided years ago to skip gatherings during the holidays altogether and postpone the big party for a month, when everyone's schedule is a bit looser.
"Instead of spending our money on exchanging gifts, because none of us really needs anything, we put the money into a fund for renting a cabin out at Bodega Bay in January," said Tamara Stanley.
Stanley, who works as a special-events planner for Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma, is the acknowledged ringleader of the annual get-togethers, booking cabins through the Bodega Bay and Beyond vacation rental agency.
"We have three generations staying together, and we all take turns making meals," said Stanley. "The grandparents team up with the kids for some of the meals."
Bodega Bay is close enough to allow family members to come and go as needed, taking kids to classes and sports practices, or checking in at work, Stanley said.
"I love our family Bodega tradition, because we get to make family memories that we'll keep forever," said Kim Stanley, Tamara's sister. "And there's no fighting the holiday shopping crowds, no crazy gift-wrapping frenzy the night before, and no 'Oh, um, thanks?' gifts."
For Larissa Ban of San Francisco, a marketing director for a high-tech software company, escaping to rental hideaways in the North Bay is more a bimonthly activity than an annual one.
Ban has been booking houses in Guerneville and Monte Rio through the Russian River Getaways company for the past seven years. She and her boyfriend make a point of coming up to the river area, particularly for the Christmas season but also for July 4, she said.