It was December 22 and I felt so overwhelmed. I could feel the lump in my throat and was about to cry as I stood in line at “Choppys”, the local supermarket.
The people around me were purchasing rice, beans, pasta, corn meal and laundry detergent in sizes that made Costco-bags look small. While the packages were massive, these were basic necessities that would sustain them for the next month. There were no big boxes of granola bars, no giant bags of tortilla chips and certainly no containers of chocolate covered almonds. I was struck with how much excess we have at home and how easy it is to get sucked into holiday consumerism. This year looks different for us.
Even before we left on this adventure, I was thinking about how we would celebrate the holidays and make them special. There would be no Elf On The Shelf, no tree to trim, no holiday lights and no friends and family to share in the festivities. So what would it look like?
I asked Tom, our safari guide, about how his family celebrates. He said it involves a lot of family, plenty of food and a fair amount of drinking. “What about presents?” I asked. “We don’t do many gifts” was his response. Kids are lucky if they get new clothes on Christmas and New Year’s.
As a safari guide, Tom is away from his family for three months at a time then home for two weeks. This year he feels fortunate that his two weeks coincide with the holidays and he gets to spend Christmas at home with his wife and 3 young kids.
Here’s the thing…when you travel for this long, you quickly lose track of what day it is. School activities, work parties, and colder weather are no longer part of the rhythm of life. Gone too is the build up to Christmas. We rarely hear holiday music in the stores, see Christmas movies on TV, or experience ever-present sales promotions.
Despite Christmas being a holiday that is celebrated here in Botswana, in Choppys this morning, the banners and décor were about the store’s big 50th birthday celebration and the opportunity to win a car. Christmas was not front and center. In fact, there was no tinsel, no lights and no music. Our lodge has a few lights and Christmas trees but not like the hotels in San Francisco.
So what did our holiday look like? On the 24th, we enjoyed a game of Marco Polo in the pool and dinner on the deck. Colin had a burger, Bryan had fish and chips and Decker and I had tacos. While 3 of the 4 of us are not religious, I was excited to learn that a local church had a 7:00 pm caroling service on Christmas Eve. I was hoping for a tiny little church, packed to the gills and resonating with deep rich voices. Instead, the 4 of us made up nearly half the congregation and after 2 songs, a woman went looking for a sound system to liven things up. It never did.
This morning, the boys woke up to wrapped gifts of candy and a VERY small gift from Santa under the tree that Bryan convinced the guys at the bar to loan us. We then celebrated with some noise poppers and enjoyed the day with more swimming and hanging out together.
I knew we couldn’t make today look like it does at home but wanted to make it special. Yes, we missed our families. Yes, the boys would have liked more boxes to open. And yes, I missed the wonderful meals with friends and family that lead up to today. However, I am reminded that Christmas is in my heart and it is about spending time with the people I love. Today, I got to spend time with the three most important people in my life. And, I didn’t have all the stress that leads up to this normally chaotic day. We didn’t give a lot of gifts but Bryan and I both know this trip is one of the biggest gifts we will ever give our boys. It was a Christmas to remember.