Friday, November 25

Poverty for Christmas

This December, over 2.1 billion Christians will celebrate the Christmas season.  Children around the world will wait with baited breath for brightly colored packages under the tree. A huge majority of the Westerm parents will spend more money than they can afford, buy more unnecessary garbage that will clutter their homes, and will kill more trees and natural resources on gift wrapping that will end up in the trash the day after. We won't.
 Why? We have a deeper agenda for Christmas 2011.

 Inglesia de Santa Maria in El Quinche, Ecuador

The Joys of Christmas

We're Jews who have raised our children in a lovely mountain-kissed bubble in Northern Israel. My children are ignorant to the immaculate rainbow of colors, tastes, and songs in which world citizens celebrate their beliefs. We're excited for our first up-coming Christmas in Ecuador to highlight that kaleidoscope.
And now, as I write this in late November, we can see the holiday approaching. Small towns throughout Southern Colombia and Northern Ecuador are hosting church celebrations and parades. We're witnessing the foil of run-down, dilapidated homes with dirt floors and barefoot partially dressed children with Christmas lights hugging their perimeter. Street vendors that just last week sold cookies and gum, now flaunt Christmas lights and tree ornaments. Empty vendor carts and vacant stores in Southern Colombia now have countertops and shelves filled with white unpainted plaster nativity scenes and Santas on sleds, and rows upon rows of stocking stuffers and decorations. This is really exciting stuff.

What are the first signs of Christmas where you dwell, and what does that do for your soul? Do you get that fluttering joy inside, as well, knowing that something significant is about to unfold?

The Christmas Spirit
Street Parades in San Pedro de Huana, Ecuador

For us, with no previous gift-giving expectations for the holiday season, there is no tension or anticipation for material goods. Since my children were babies, we've taught them that Hannukah is the time for celebrating, not for gift-giving. We put out our Hannukah decorations and wipe off the menorahs (the candelabrum used for the season). The kids may receive some money from their grandparents, but from their parents, they know to expect 8 nights of magical candle-lighting, song-singing, driedel-playing, and chocolate-eating with family and friends.  

In the States, Christmas (and Hannukah, Easter, Memorial Day and more) have become pitiful comsumeristic excuses for grandiose, extravagant sales. This part of the Christmas holiday season is not an issue for us. We don't have to waste tons of money to one-up last year's celebrations and we don't have to spend money we don't have purchasing more wrapped gifts that will clutter up our backpacks and our lives. We have a more serious gift-giving issue at hand. Regardless of the time of year, my kids want stuff.
How have you tackled the 'holiday of giving' with your kids? Have you found the balance between making a joyous, memorable holiday season and limiting consumerisic  hysteria?

Children in Poverty

We were sure that exposing our children to other children in poverty would shift something deep and profound in their psyche. We knew that after playing with kids dressed in rags, with dirt floors, that they would suddenly understand the uselessness of stuff and appreciate their plenty. On our world travel curriculum was modesty, appreciation, and non-materialism. Children in poverty would surely do it. But, no.

In La Lucha de la Tigra, Costa Rica, one of my kids went to play at a local friend's house, and returned ten minutes later because "it's so boring over there. Who would want to be in that dump? There wasn't even a door on the bathroom; there's all these big holes in the walls and floor. And besides, they have NO TOYS!" I wanted to violently shake my child, "Can you draw any other conclusions from this experience? What about…" But, my words fell on deaf ears.

I reluctantly have to accept that life lessons take time and I can't possibly expect my child, developmentally, to be where I am today. When I was my kids' ages, I invited every kid in the class to my Chuckie Cheese or Roller-skating parties, not because I necessarily loved them all, but because I wanted their presents. I understand where my kids are.  

How have you tried to teach your children to value their plenty? What genius ideas have helped shift your children towards appreciative, non-materialistic human beings?

The Traveling Minimalist

The physical limitations of traveling the world like a turtle with all that you own on your back was meant to create traveling minimalists. Instead, it has created creative children who hang bags from their backpacks, blackmail each other for courier services, and beg for their parents to just stuff this one tiny (bulging) extra bag for them.

My kids still believe in wide-eyed wonder that this toy, cereal, or doll will make them happier, smarter, and healthier. They still believe the commercials; still meander for hours in stores wishing for this and that gadget; still dreamily reminisce over what's in their boxes back home. They still whine and beg and drool over stuff, and will joyfully spend their entire allowance on another made-in-China plastic nothing that will break within 4 hours (if not within minutes) of leaving the store.

So, while minimalist coos and woos at my soul, and glitters in the light of my greatest simplistic hopes; my family and I still have a ways to go towards our truest, lightest selves.

Is your child's main occupation what he can consume? Any tips regarding teaching kids the way to minimalistic principles?

The Silver Lining

Relentlessly, my husband and I will continue to point out children laboring in the sun selling wares and working in the fields. We'll keep noting to them how impoverished the children we meet are, and how blessed and joyful they are to live three or four generations intertwined on the same dirt floor and hammock bedrooms. We'll keep talking about whole families (including babies and toddlers) sleeping in their roadside booths at nights to protect their wares. We'll continue passing out dollar-store soldiers and colorful plastic cars toys to children we meet; we'll keep buying fruits and candies from kids on the roadside. We'll keep sorting through and giving away all the excesses we've collected every month or so. We'll keep confident that the world will serve as an excellent classroom for creating fine, compassionate, appreciative human beings out of our children with so much.

It is estimated that one of every three people on this globe celebrates Christmas. This year, we'll be five of those people. Merry Christmas to you and yours. 

We would be honored to hear your thoughts, ruminations, and advice on the issues raised in this entry. Your interactions with us motivate us in our journey; and your opinions in this discussion are greatly valued. So, share your brilliant comment; and join us. You can subscribe to our lively YouTube Channel for movies of our adventures, join us on Twitter, or Facebook for exclusive albums of our travels around the globe. 

It is my honor to share my views and experiences with other like-minded, inspirational traveling families. Be sure to read their insights on The Season of Giving:

Family Trek: What's For Christmas 

New Life on the Road - Dear Mr Santa Claus What's For Christmas

With 2 Kids In Tow, It's Backpacking We Go:  Dear Santa, For This Christmas We Wish

Living Outside of the Box -  The Best Christmas Presents

Discover Share Inspire - Christmas is Coming - What Do We Give on the Road

Bohemian Travelers- Gift Giving While Living a Simpler Life

  Presence vs Presents - Christmas Time for Traveling Families 

Livin On The Road's Kids: Christmas
A Minor Diversion – Reinventing Christmas

Carried on the Wind – Christmas Giving

Edventure Project- On Christmas A Reflection on the Real Gifts 


Thanks for sharing, Gabi. Our kids are still young (4 and 2) and this year for the first time we are thinking very deeply about our approach to Christmas and what we hope to foster in the kids in terms of expectations for Christmas. Loved your perspective.

How refreshing after reading about the Black Friday events here in the US. And even though it does take time to develop the sensibilities of minimalism, you'll get them their truest, lightest selves. It does my heart good to know you're out there trying! Much love...V

Hiya Gabi and family

Thanks for this thought provoking blog.
The shops here have had Christmas decorations on the shelves for about 3 weeks already!! It really takes away a lot of the anticipation and joy when they start so early. It gets jaded for many by the week before Christmas.
I totally get what you felt when your bairn came back saying there were "no toys". I think children do take it in, on some level, but they process it in a different way. It is a powerful message, and one I am sure will affect them when they are a bit older, and able to actually DO something themselves, in action or by donation.
I, because of health restrictions, start shopping in September, and I wrap and get them all put away by the end of November so that I can enjoy December and relax :-)
My youngest is now 18 - but all of mine, from a young age, have received one main gift and then some little stocking fillers. Their other gifts come from family members and friends. I have sponsored various children for the last 18 years, and at Christmas their photo would go beside my manger scene and so they "joined" us for Christmas. My children got to share all the information, school reports, photos etc that came, and hopefully it has given them a more rounded view of the difficulties others have. My second son is now a Director on the local charity to help the homeless.
Love, compassion and family - regardless of how little I have I have always shared - and I really do think it has been passed on to my children. We try to remember the reason for the season - namely Jesus!! With him at the centre of our celebrations we can decorate our house, tree, presents etc and know that it is all done in love!!
I am playing at an Old Folks dinner on Thurday - entertainment, then some Christmas songs - and just seeing the joy on their faces as they sing along makes it all worthwhile.
To me personally Christmas is about giving - time, love, compassion and gifts where possible. There are various charities that now give a goat/chickens/mosquito net/books etc to people in areas who need them - and the person you have bought it for gets a card describing the gift - such a lovely thing to do for folk who have no need for actual presents, but who can share in the joy of knowing a family somewhere are having a better Christmas because they DO need the help :-)
Well, I better go before you get severe eye strain reading this. Many blessings to you and yours - and I will be thinking of you all this festive seson. Happy Hannukah/Happy Christmas to you
Love Wendy xox

Clark, Thank you for taking the time to share, yet again. Yes, they are at such a wonderful age to still imprint in them your values. I know your kids will be blessed however you choose to make Christmas meaningful. Gabi


It does my heart good to know you are rooting us one to reaching our 'truest, lightest selves'. They'll get there, or they won't. All I can give them is roots and wings. They will make their own choices in the end. :-)

Oh Wendy dear how you do make move me. You bring tears to my eyes, and joy to my heart, how heart-felt, sincere, and engaging you are. I love that you put up their pictures so that they celebrate Christmas 'with you'. And your son choosing that path means he learned something powerful from you during those years.

Yes, I know they process it differently. I just sometimes don't have patience for that process. I want them to get it NOW. ( Even though, my NOW took many, many years to get!)

It so fills me to know that your celebrations are still centered around the point: Jesus and his love and what he gave to his people. So inspiring. We'll be thinking of you as well this year Wendy. So much love and respect and gratitude.


Great post. I do think it takes time for lessons to sink in with children. My girls have noticed how one of their local friends and her little sister don't ever seem to have clothes that fit them, but thankfully that doesn't affect their budding friendships. I try to remind them to be thankful for our blessings, but not to look down on them because they own less.

The kindness you're demonstrating to others will teach your kids SO much more than you realize. Keep up the good work and Merry Christmas/Happy Hannukah!

This is Gabi. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it so. Not sure why (or maybe I am) but your comment brought tears to my eyes. Made me think of a friend named Brandy when I was in elementary school who was soooo poor but for Christmas one of the four homemade gifts under the plastic foot-high tree were for me. Oh.

Merry Christmas dear Susan.

I dont think kids get the idea of giving at Christmas time - I know that I could never understand it when I was younger! But this year we are having a different xmas, we are going to be doing something we havent done before. With our limited space we have to be careful what gifts we do give.
I would love xmas to be about giving, not about gifts.
I guess the ideas change as we get older - and kids will appreciate what they have when they understand what it is really important in life!
Meery Christmas to you and your gorgeous family.

Hey Gabi! This was a great piece. I think the most important thing is to start early and be consistent. Clearly you started early with your kids, as we are trying to do with ours. I think the bigger challenge is to be consistent about what we need, what's a 'treat' and what is unnecessary. It's also a challenge with other people like grandparents pile on presents...
Wishing you and the family a great Hanukkah this year.

First of all ---- wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thoughts. Loved your ideas and you are so dead spot-on in so many ways.
BUT---and I'm sure you could feel it coming on, I have to add, the part of the reason Christmas has become so commercialized has a direct link with the SECULARIZATION of Christmas.

I'm kinda puzzled why your "five" will be celebrating Christmas this year. If you don't believe in the birth of Jesus Christ as a holy event, then you are celebrating the commercial/secular side of the holiday the World outside of the Christian church calls Christmas.

I get the peace/love/joy/hope of the season that CAN be completely enjoyed and appreciated by anyone.

But Christmas, at its core, is about the birth of Jesus. Not trees, not presents, and anything like that is just "icing" on the cake.

Again, lovely blog and I enjoy getting to know you better.


Merry Christmas to you as well! And Happy Hannukah! I know what you mean about wanting to help our kids learn the lessons we find so important, but over time they will see our example and hopefully come to "get" it. All we can do is love them and love others! All the best to you and yours!

Nicely put. I admire your clarity of thought, intention and persistence! The pervasive influences of consumerism, wanting and getting create such a challenging environment for parents to try and teach about giving or alternatives to consumerism.

And while parents and personal experience are strong forces, it must be hard for kids to know who and what to believe in the face of persuasive messages from friends, the media and others wholly engaged in the great consumerist experiment. All we can do is do our best to create family environments and experiences which help show and teach alternatives and encourage kids to question and not be afraid to challenge 'norms', something you seem so clearly committed to doing. We cannot the outcome, and what fun would it be if we did?

Keep up your 'relentless'ness and i totally agree that 'the world will serve as an excellent classroom for creating fine, compassionate, appreciative human beings out of our children with so much.' Hope you have a wonderful experience in your part of the world this year!

Hey gang, hope you are all well.

I'm happy to have met you lot, I think your children are just the same as every other child in this world, living with raw emotion unaffected by adult morality yet, its amazing to think they will develop a truly good perspective on life so quickly, I'm sure it will put them in good stead for their futures.

I write with a different perspective at the moment as my psyche has shifted from one of travelling to one of being in the familiar environment that is home.

I am really, really grateful for the experiences and the people I met whilst travelling.

Living one day on the road feels like one year in a day to day life at home, its hard to quantify.

We are who we are largely from the experiences we have, I'm happy that there are people like you in the world who are not resting on their lorals and are using their energy to make it better, not by trying to solve huge problems, but by working towards being the change they want to see.

I thought I knew a lot about the world before i started travelling, but I was soon humbled by how little I knew about myself. For me, that was the most important thing to come from traveling, and I now know its the most important place to start from, if we search deep inside ourselves we see what is important in this life.

All the best, and I hope your travels continue to grow in ways which you didn't expect, and I look forward to hearing about it,


I just stumbled into this blog, and I'm struck by your statement that "A huge majority of the Westerm parents will spend more money than they can afford" on Christmas presents. Really? Can you back that up with actual facts? I agree that there's too much thoughtless "stuff" being exchanged during holidays in the West, but I doubt that "a huge majority" of parents are spending beyond their means.

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