A snowbird Christmas

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December 4, 2010

By Bob Difley

Celebrating the holidays in an RV is a bit different than sitting down to Christmas dinner at a table for twelve surrounded by sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Snowbirds, unfortunately, are displaced revelers, far away from the Christmas trees, jingle bells, and ho-ho-ho of “home.” For snowbirds, home is where you park it, which might be snuggled up to a saguaro or jostling with a Joshua tree.

But because of snowbirds’ displacement from family, they are not bound by traditions practiced by family gatherings. So, here are a few ideas for boondockers who would like to do something different this year, yet still retain the spirit of Holiday cheer, and maybe even astonish their grandkids.

Design your own desert Christmas tree, ornaments, and decorations

tumbleweed_christmas_treeA bit unorthodox, but why not? (If we RVers weren’t a bit different, we wouldn’t choose to live a good portion of the year in a box on wheels). For this holiday’s décor, combine the elements of a treasure hunt, a vigorous walk, and a stretching of the imagination. Put on your hiking boots, grab a collecting bag, and set off across the desert.

The first thing you need is a “tree”, the thing you hang the ornaments on. A Russian thistle, more commonly know as a tumble weed, or any of several dry, skeletal, leafless desert shrubs makes a good choice. Decide on the best location to display this budding masterpiece, the dash or dinette table for instance, and devise a way to stand it up. The old tree stand that you’ve been lugging around for years won’t do. One year we built a cairn of rocks around the base of the bush. In another we used a tripod-shaped cholla cactus skeleton (a branched hollow tube-like stick perforated like Swiss cheese) and wedged the root of our bush into one of the holes. Voila!

A tree waiting for decorations

Returning from our foraging trip we dumped the contents of our collecting bags onto the table and examined the booty: small, light-weight, pieces of bleached wood, tumbled colored stones from a wash, seed pods from a screwbean mesquite, several sprigs of silvery-white desert holly leaves, puff-ball brownish-red heads of desert buckwheat, and spikes of fluffgrass sprouting fine silvery hairs.

We cut some red and green poster paper (our token acquiescence to tradition) into tiny shapes—bells, circles, triangles—on which we drew replicas of pre-historic Native American petroglyphs that we had discovered.

With nearly invisible spots of white glue we hung the ornaments on short strands of thread that we then tied to the branches of our bush. We then tied bows of colored yarn and ribbon to several branches and finished off the creation with a ring of tea candles in a circle around the base.

We added a touch of Southwest tradition with an illuminated path of luminarias, lunch-sized paper bags filled one third full of sand with a votive candle perched on top of the sand. The glowing bags led to our entry door. With our gifts under the tree, a CD of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s interpretation of traditional Christmas carols playing, and the bubbles from a glass of Champagne tickling our nice warm noses, we couldn’t have felt more festive. (Unfortunately, my tree photos were lost in a altercation with my harddrive.)

A Unique Gift of Giving

After you’ve dispatched the United Postal Service to deliver the fluffy bunnies and huggable bears to your grandkids, completed or crossed out most of the items on your To Do list, and allowed yourself a sigh of relief, you finally will have some time to give a gift of yourself.

For example.  Alongside the road heading toward Tecopa Hot Springs between Baker and Death Valley in California where we spent one Christmas, I passed a stooped-over old man. I noticed that he was picking up trash from along the roadside and placing it in a black trash bag. His bicycle was parked a short ways away. Later, as I was leaving the hot springs, he rode up and threw the bulbous black bag into the dumpster.

I asked if he worked for the BLM. He laughed and told me, “I camp free out here on BLM land, so it’s the least I can do to pick up what I can. It’s my small way of paying back.”

Following his example, how about spending a few minutes picking up around your campsite, along a hiking trail, and in the open areas beyond. It will be your gift to the land. Consider also giving a gift of yourself in these other ways:

• Give a basket of food to a family who is less fortunate than you.
• Buy clothing, books, and toys from thrift shops and garage sales or collect unwanted items from your neighbors to give to the homeless or battered women’s shelters, or needy children that may not get much else.
• Visit a home for seniors. Spend a few minutes of your time listening to and talking with someone whose only pleasures may come from too infrequent visitors.
• Visit a children’s hospital and bring a few moments of laughter to kids that have to spend their holiday in such a lonely place.

And don’t forget to stop by your campground or boondocking neighbors and wish them the greetings of the season. Do just one of the above and I guarantee that your holiday season will not be one of loneliness away from the family, but will be a memorable one, filled with the smiling faces of those to which you gave of yourself.

Lynn and I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and an adventurous, healthy 2011.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.

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  492. George

    Bob, I’m pleased to see you aren’t afraid to use the word CHRISTMAS for fear of being politically incorrect. May you and Lynn have a Very Merry Christmas and the best to all in 2011.

  493. Bob and Julie

    This is an additional Christmas decorating idea that some might want to use!

    Our home is of the “old fashioned” type and we decided that this year we wanted to see if we could locate some of those “old tyme” Christmas light strings. What we did find was that the old fashioned C-9 multi-colored indoor/outdoor lights were indeed available but with a new twist. They are 120 volt A/C LEDs. Now here is the kicker. The entire 25 bulb string draws exactly 2.4 watts! Two point four watts is wonderful for anyone boondocking. Hey. Leave them on all night.

    We found these on the internet “Environmental Lights.com”. Each 25 bulb string costs about twenty bucks.

    You’re welcome.
    Bob and Julie

  494. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Lynn & Bob,
    That is a really nice piece you wrote about giving… The way I look at it if you give every day it’s not so special… Each year about the 15th of November I just tune out
    and don’t tune back in until about the 15th of January… That way all of the craziness
    is over for another year, people are coherent and life gets back to a ‘normal’ pace..