Guest post by Christine Lindstrom of Lindstroms on the Road.
Last week we hung an artificial garland of greens with white lights around the edge of the slide-out in our living room. Its cozy, festive glow is noticeably different from the colorful LED light strip that we keep up there the rest of the year. And in the middle hangs a bouquet of fresh cut mistletoe. This is a first for us – a gift from new friends we met last week in a South Carolina campground. It’s starting to wilt now, and it probably won’t make it until Christmas, but somehow this one small branch, and the gesture behind it, has awakened my holiday spirit. It’s Christmastime again!
Celebrating holidays can be a challenge on the road, and this is especially true of the Christmas season and all of the extra expectations that sometimes come with it. As we prepare to celebrate our third Christmas in our travel trailer, we continue to adapt our plans and traditions. Bigger is not always better, especially in a tiny house on wheels. But that does not mean sacrificing a meaningful, memorable holiday. It may actually mean exactly the opposite.
Decking the Halls
There are many different ways to decorate an RV for Christmas both inside and out. From a simple string of lights or a wreath on the door to a variety of inflatable lawn decorations and projection lights in trees and on the camper itself, we have seen a wide range of approaches to making a campsite festive. Be sure to consider any campground rules or restrictions before purchasing a giant light-up Frosty that sings whenever someone walks past.
Inside, be sure to take into account the size limitations of your space. Also be careful with breakable items and candles, since a house on wheels will naturally move, even if it is parked and stationary. Flat surfaces like tables and counters are at a premium, and likely used for many purposes, so keep this in mind before planning decorative items that take up this space.
Find a few things that feel festive and special for your family and keep it simple. Find and decorate things found in nature. Evergreen branches, pine cones, holly branches or even fresh mistletoe are great choices that don’t need to be stored from year to year. Another great idea is to get some special art supplies and let the kids make some decorations. This is a great way to encourage their creativity and involve them in the process!
With a small RV oven and counters the size of a postage stamp, the tradition of baking Christmas cookies is difficult to maintain on the road. For us, it isn’t our highest priority, but we do try to bake a little bit every year. We want our kids to grow up with some experience and basic baking skills. Christmas is a great motivator to do something we wish we did more often the rest of the year. A toaster oven cookie sheet is a great size for an RV oven. We have even bought disposable aluminum bakeware and cut it to fit our specific oven. Last year, my mother-in-law came from Sweden to spend Christmas with us and she baked traditional Swedish cinnamon rolls with the kids. They turned out great!
Otherwise, this is an area where we have scaled back our expectations and focused what is most important to us. We still love making gingerbread houses, but instead of baking our own, we now buy a kit and decorate it. The decorating was everyone’s favorite part anyway (except for eating it of course!).
Oh, Christmas Tree!
While larger RVs might have space for a bigger tree in the living room, a small, table-top style tree is also a great option. For added simplicity, choose an artificial tree with lights already included. This kind of tree has worked well for us. Our presents do not fit beneath it, but no one seems to mind. At the end of each season, we have chosen to give our tree away rather than storing it for 11 months of the year.
This year, we have a 4th grader who qualifies for an “Every Kid in a Park” National Park pass. Included with this pass is the chance to get a free permit to cut a live Christmas tree from a national forest. Read more about this program and contact your local national forest rangers to see if they are participating!
It is always countercultural to live simply, avoid accumulating a lot of “stuff” and live with less. Never is this more true than the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Adults and kids alike are bombarded with messages about gift giving and receiving that don’t line up well with our nomadic lifestyle and simple values. While this tension can’t be avoided completely, there are ways to reduce the friction.
Talk to family and friends about your priorities and how you are raising your kids. If they want to give the kids gifts, be prepared with a few suggestions for fun gifts that fit your philosophy and space limitations. We like to suggest consumable items that the kids love, such as crayons, coloring books, and other craft supplies.
Prepare for the season by talking to your kids, reminding them of your values, and depending on their ages, encouraging them to look at the hidden messages in advertising. We also like to prepare more practically by sorting the toys and books they already have, disposing of things that are broken or worn out, and donating toys they have outgrown. Our kids understand that they need to create space for new gifts that are on the way. (We do this for birthdays too!)
Focus on experiences whenever possible. Tickets to a show, concert, amusement park or zoo are all great gift ideas! Kids love the promise of time spent together doing something they enjoy. It adds to your collection of memories but doesn’t take up any space.
Other Holiday Ideas
This season offers plenty of opportunities for serving and giving. Find a non-profit that works with a cause that is important to you and involve your kids in giving and serving to the level of their understanding and abilities. Find local opportunities to serve others. These are good things to do all year long, but seem especially important during a season that otherwise is often very focused on receiving. This year, each of our kids filled a shoebox to send to a child living in poverty in another part of the world through Operation Christmas Child.
This is also a great time to focus your homeschooling on holidays and celebrations. Kids can learn the history behind some of their favorite holiday traditions, or study how holidays are celebrated in other parts of the world. As a bicultural family, we celebrate our family’s Swedish Christmas traditions on December 24th. This involves eating a special rice porridge (“Santa porridge”) and watching a Disney Christmas special that runs on Swedish TV every Christmas Eve at 3:00.
Living in an RV can make holiday traditions a challenge. Find ways to keep those that are most important to you, adapt others, and be open to discovering new ones with new friends along the way. Merry Christmas and see you on the road!