Home for the holidays is a fine sentiment, but not for everyone. Rather than gather around the hearth, many families opt for a winter vacation away from home. Some may head for snow-draped slopes for skiing, others for the elegant old cities of Europe, in search of the Christmases of childhood storybooks. Many go anywhere it's warm and sunny.

September, ablaze in the colors of fall, may seem an odd time to consider the year-end holidays. But, as a practical matter, it is none too early to make reservations for a Christmas getaway; popular destinations tend to be booked early. A number of tour packages offer seasonal possibilities to such destinations as:

Canada's Rocky Mountains. Nine days of majestic winterscapes on a motorcoach tour from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Calgary in Alberta, site of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Two nights at Cha~teau Lake Louise and three nights -- including Christmas Eve -- at the Banff Springs Hotel; sleigh rides on Christmas Day. Departure is from Vancouver on Dec. 19. Land cost is $1,198 per person (double occupancy). For information: Maupintour, Lawrence, Kans., (800) 255-4266.

An English village. Spend five days, including Christmas Day and Boxing Day (Dec. 26), in a 17th-century inn in the ancient village of Oundle in the Midlands north of London, including carols and hot toddies on Christmas Eve, a visit from Father Christmas the next morning and a treasure hunt on Boxing Day. Afterward, the tour heads to London for two days and on to Scotland for five days of New Year's festivities. Departure is from Boston on Dec. 22. Cost (land and air) is $2,895 per person (double). For information: Great Journeys, Beverly Farms, Mass., (800) 225-2553.

The nature-lover's Hawaii. An "unspoiled" Hawaii is the promise of this 15-day exploration of the state's mountains, volcanoes, parks, beaches and tidal pools. In the company of a naturalist, you can hike, snorkel and take a cruise to spot humpback whales. Departure is from Honolulu on Dec. 19. Cost (not including meals or air fare) is $1,590 per person. For information: Nature Expeditions International, Eugene, Ore., (503) 484-6529.

Sunny Sydney. Sydney on Christmas Eve is the departure port for a 12-day South Pacific cruise from Australia to New Zealand aboard the Royal Cruise Line's Royal Odyssey. Before sailing, there are carols and dinner in the Sydney Opera House; Christmas Day is celebrated at sea with a holiday banquet; and on Boxing Day passengers take in the horse races in Melbourne. Departure is from Sydney Dec. 24. Per person cost (including air from Washington) ranges from $4,193 (inside cabin) to $6,393 (state room), based on double occupancy. For information: Royal Cruise Line, San Francisco, (415) 956-7200.