Christmas on the road

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I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a fan of what Christmas has become.

Ear-splitting Christmas carols being piped into shopping malls throughout the land.

Mailboxes stuffed with brochures shouting about the latest supposed bargains.

TV and radio advertising pressuring parents into spending money they don’t have on gifts their kids don’t need.

A relentless barrage of noise for months on end all with one single purpose: liberating cash from wallets as fast as possible.

It makes being on the road at Xmas seem like a blessed relief.

Avoiding the worst aspects of consumer culture is much easier as a long term traveller. I don’t have a mailbox for advertising to turn up in. I don’t watch TV or listen to the radio, and the newspaper is often in a different language so there’s not much chance of reading that either.

Most importantly, when I carry everything I need on my back there is no desire for anyone to add to it.

Travelling at this time of year gives me the chance to get back to a simpler Christmas.

My first festive season away from home was in a small town outside Edinburgh in Scotland. Coming from the southern hemisphere I had high hopes for a white Christmas, but sadly there was no snow on the day. It sure was cold though. Huddled up in a nice warm house with a few of my girlfriend’s relatives, we swapped small gifts, ate good food, had a few drinks and told stories for hours.

As I sat in the car on the way home watching the grey afternoon sky quickly darken, I reflected that my worries about a very different kind of Christmas had been unfounded. Cold instead of hot, many thousands of miles from my family, different traditions and expectations – none of that was important. It had been a great day without any of the familiarity.

Being around good people was what mattered.

Lake Malawi

The following year saw an even less typical way to spend December 25. Nearing the end of a month long overland truck trip through eastern Africa, the morning sun quickly superheated my tent to boiling point. Well before 7am my motley crew of fellow travellers were all out of bed, a dozen of us sitting on the shores of Lake Malawi burying our feet in the sand.

Somebody, somehow, had found an instant cake mix. Don’t ask me where. We quickly got a fire going and left our concoction to bake in the embers while we moved onto more important things.

Drinking games.

At nine in the morning.

Merry Christmas.

After far too many Carlsbergs, an impromptu swim in the lake and stuffing ourselves with cake, it was time for Xmas dinner. The main course had been with us since the previous day, standing in the back of the truck and then snuffling around the campsite – you are certainly a lot closer to your food in Africa than at home.

Everyone had purchased a gift for another person (with a five dollar limit), and we even had silly party hats to make the occasion complete. Just to keep with tradition, after lunch everybody disappeared for a long afternoon nap.

We were a close group, bonded by our shared adventures over the previous weeks. Being able to spend the day with such a great bunch of people in such beautiful surroundings means that Christmas still stands as one of the best of my life.

Friends in Chiang Mai

This year, for the first time in a decade, I am away from home at Xmas once more. I will almost certainly be celebrating the day in Chiang Mai, Thailand – my home for a few months. Being in a Buddhist country in the lead-up to Christmas has been a breath of fresh air. Other than the occasional plastic tree or tinsel in the farang (foreigner) parts of town there has been no hype.

Just the way I like it.

I will probably spend the day as I do many others, eating, drinking and laughing with several of my good friends in the expat community here and reflecting a little on just how much I am enjoying my life right now. I’ll put in a few calls to family members dotted around the globe as the timezones align. It would be nice to be able to spend the day with them, of course, but as we live all over the world it is rare that everyone is together at Christmas anyway. Skype and phone calls are just about an acceptable substitute.

Being on the road at Christmas time is a mixed blessing, but honestly I wouldn’t change it for the world.


How are you spending your Christmas this year?

[Lake Malawi photo via SarahDepper]

8 Responses to “Christmas on the road

  • The Christmas we spent on an island in Thailand cemented our aversion to Christmas also. Drilled down to its basic elements, Christmas is about spending time with loved ones near and far. It’s harder to stay away from all the hype now that we’re back home but I avoid the shops, stay away from TV and try to remember what it was about that Christmas that made it special…well, other than the beach, the ocean and the bucket cocktails! Cheers and Merry Christmas Dave.

  • Jade and I met on Christmas day last year. I love Christmas on the road!

  • This is going to be my first Christmas away from my family, and I’m quite looking forward to spending it on the beach in Perth! I feel super grateful that I got to spend Thanksgiving with my family (on the beach, at that!) this year and when it comes down to it, Christmas is just another day…at least that’s what I’m saying now. We’ll see how I feel when I wake up on Christmas morning and don’t have stuffing and apple pie to look forward to that afternoon!

  • I really agree with you about Christmas! and i really wish i could be back in Chiang Mai myself this christmas! lol.. you lucky man!! all the best..

  • Cool post, but count me among those who can’t imagine being at home with family around the holidays. I’ve got a pretty tight-knit extended family (20+ who live locally), and Thanksgiving and Christmas are one of the few times each year we all get together.

  • Christmas has never been a big deal for me since I don’t celebrate it. But, there is still an air of excitement I’ve had since I was a kid waking up on Christmas morning. I love that you are able to be all of these amazing places during the holiday. So long as you are happy and enjoying yourself, I think it’s great! Continue to enjoy. And, let me know what you do on Xmas day!

  • This will be my first Christmas away from home in my life and it’s kind of a relief, although I was definitely putting a lot of pressure on myself to do something cool both for Christmas and NYE since I’m on the road. At home, though, it usually feels like a couple weeks of nonstop commercialism and obligations that leave me feeling completely drained.

    So after being on the road for almost 4 months, I decided I will be happiest going totally low key and holing up in a hotel in Warsaw. While it may seem odd to want to spend it alone, I’m looking forward to the downtime and having the privacy to Skype with family back home – I can’t wait to see my 3 year old niece open her presents, even if it is remotely.

Trackbacks & Pings

  • Christmas in Chiang Mai :

    […] this time of year is always an experience.As I mentioned last week I actually quite enjoy spending Christmas on the road.  While not having family nearby is hard, the lack of commercialism and hype goes a long way […]

    11 years ago

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