Here’s a blog post I wrote almost two years ago on my old blog, Renaissance Housewife. At the time, we were living in a tiny village in Belize. Our preparations for Christmas included finding a small palm tree in the jungle and decorating it with homemade decorations and making gifts for each other out of whatever we could find lying around our remote, seafront property.

Christmas wasn’t shopping or excessive things. It was a spirit. It was love. It was all of us spending time together. It was simple, sparse, and stress-free. It was wonderful.

Our family has come a long way since Christmas 2012, but I often still feel that the meaning of this most sacred holiday gets lost in the shuffle of our overblown American way of life.

Read about our entire family sabbatical in my book, Exit Normal: How We Escaped With Our Family and Changed Our Life, available as an ebook for $4.99.


All I Want For Christmas
Monkey River Village, Belize, December 11th, 2012

Last night I was feeling down. Kevin and I had heard something had gone wrong with our business back home. The Internet was 1999-dial-up slow. Google was not talking to me. The kids were upstairs shrieking and stomping (having fun but still unnerving their parents). I was hot, sticky, grouchy, and itchy from the sand flies and mosquitoes biting me. Darkness fell on the house at 5:30, but the lights were still off so we could conserve the collected energy. I looked forward to a cold shower, a warm beer, and my rumpled bed – and what I hoped would be a brighter perspective in the morning.

I woke up at 5:30 to a still and quiet turquoise morning. I could hear the kids moving and murmuring in the next room. I went to say good morning. They showed me what they’d been working on: their letters to Santa.

What did they ask for? Not play stations. Not mini iPads. Not bikes or American Girl dolls.


Here’s Laura’s:

“Dear Santa,

image ‘Merry Christmas.’ All I want this year is maybe a few surprises and please give others my other Christmas presents. I don’t want to enjoy my presents in front of anybody who does not get them. Thank you for the St. Nick presents. That was a very good ice maker. I like the letters. So does Addy, Andy, and Brenny.”

Here’s Brenny’s:

“Dear Santa,

Merry Christmas! All I want is for the people who have any of their relatives fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to come home for Christmas. I hope that people pray and hope for those fighting and their family for the people who serve. Those people to me are heroes and they deserve to come home. I hope people care and love the people and the soldiers if they come home. The people are sad and really want the soldiers to come home. I would like a few things though. If it is possible, and no trouble, I would really like to have any kind of chiller or a soursop juice (Carribean Pride). And the Internet to work for Mom and us.


Thank you.”

Here’s Andy’s:

“Dear Santa,

This year for Christmas I don’t really want that much. Please give most of my presents to the kids that need them more. I would like a couple of things, though.
A pineapple chiller
A Citrus Valley apple drink
A soursop drink
A couple of books”

Our kids attend school with some of the poorest children in this developing nation. These kids don’t have much. There’s a feeding program at our school to ensure the kids get fed a mid-day meal, since many of their folks leave before sunrise to work on the nearby banana and citrus farms. These kids only recently have been required to wear shoes to school. And their families only recently got electrical power in their homes when Monkey River Village got connected to the electrical grid in 2009.

I don’t mention any of this to point out how poverty-stricken they are. My feeling is they’re not “poor” in the way we first-worlders would think. They have what they need – they just don’t seem to need as much as we Americans do. Maybe I’m totally wrong about this, but I don’t see suffering here. I see simplicity. I don’t see squalor. I see happiness.

When I see a house on stilts with wood floors, door open to the elements, and curtains drifting out of screen-less windows, I think how different life is for these people than the life I’m used to. My American brain screams, “How can they be happy?! They don’t have a big house. They don’t have cars. They have few material things. Their diet is simple. They live so remotely that most in the village don’t even go across Monkey River to go to the bigger town. What kind of life is that?”

A simple one.

I consider what I know to be happening in the States right now. People are frantically shopping for Christmas, as I know I’d be doing if I were home. They are proving their affection for loved ones by shopping and spending. They are creating the “perfect” Christmas by wrapping, decorating, baking, party planning, cooking, cleaning, and socializing. I know because I am an American and, if I were home, I would be doing all of these things, too.

Many Christmas seasons have gone by where I bought the appropriate number of gifts – but I never prayed. I planned big parties – but I didn’t take the elderly neighbor a plate of cookies. I put up two trees, lights, ornaments, and all other manner of Christmas bling, but I spent zero minutes reflecting about my blessings. And I grumbled plenty about how much I had to do – and skipped sending positive energy into the Universe.

I regret how many books I didn’t read my children. How few times I volunteered for those less fortunate. And how little personal awareness I’ve had. I’ve rushed, purchased, and bustled with the best of them. But I didn’t find peace, awareness, or love.

I hate to be so extreme, but it is the stuff getting in the way. It’s the excess crap we buy for each other and the excess number of cookies we bake and the excess meaningless rituals on our November and December calendars. The entire truth of the holiday is sucked out and replaced with what we think is the perfect Christmas but has become a sham.

This year, in Belize, I have not seen one TV commercial luring me to shop. We have no TV. I have not hefted the huge pile of ads from the Sunday paper onto my kitchen table. There is no paper. I have not tripped over stuff I don’t need in the stores. Here in Independence, I’ve seen for sale some gift tags, a few rolls of paper, and a 2-foot artificial Charlie Brown Christmas tree, dusty from being ignored.

My children have sensed this cultural change. And without much direction from me. They asked for sodas. They asked that gifts be given to kids who have less than they do. They asked for our American troops to be sent home. And they asked that people pray. What more can any of us want from Santa?

While I was grumbling about slow Internet and biting bugs, my kids were upstairs, writing unselfish letters to the Big Guy. And totally getting it. Getting it more than their misguided mother.

They get that Christmas is about – and ONLY about – love. About giving yourself. About praying to your Maker. And, okay, maybe about being thirsty.

You know what I want for Christmas? I want to be like my kids.