How to Christmas in an RV

Summer quickly turned to autumn after a couple of eventful months as newbie full-timers. My mom brain started thinking about the upcoming holiday season. “How in the world are we going to do Christmas in an RV?” I wondered. Halloween was celebrated with new road friends in Williamsburg, Virginia. Halloween complete and BAM – the marketing gods start pushing Christmas. Working out particulars was officially rattling around the old thinker.

Meeting up with other full-time families who “get it” has many advantages. One such advantage is touring each other’s homes. The obvious benefit is seeing how others adapt to the small space and to pick up tips for your own modification. We didn’t realize just how beneficial our first tour of another roadschooling family’s rig would be.

The Hannen’s (@ourbumpyroad-family of 5) invited us to tour their toy hauler. To my amazement Kaycee lifted up their master bed to show us where they store their homeschool books and curriculum. She must have noticed my jaw drop because she asked, “You have this, right? Under bed storage?” Uhhh…I don’t think so.

With the kids playing with friends, Jeff & I immediately walked home and checked under our bed. It felt like a Christmas miracle! Boom! All of the sudden we had the Christmas gift storage predicament solved. This was not a feature we had been shown by the RV salesman or even during our RV orientation. The kids would never know that storage area existed until after Christmas.

“Simplicity is complex.

It's never simple to keep things simple.

Simple solutions require the most advanced thinking.” ― Richie Norton

Embracing this lifestyle meant embracing a simpler life. We’re still consumers, but the need to reduce excessive consumerism is a mantra and a natural necessity due to the size of our home on wheels. But I was still left with “advanced thinking” on keeping Christmas simple. How will we make it feel magical? What traditions should we carry over? What traditions should we let go of? How can we instill the value of simplicity and “collecting moments, not things” when our children expect gifts from Santa? How do we avoid a bad case of the “gimmees?”

Tips for a Memorable RV Christmas:

1 – Less is More When it Comes to Decor

A string of lights, a baby-sized tree, wrapping paper cut to fit and taped to cabinet doors, and a season-smelling candle are enough to create festive ambiance in a small space. There is no fear in competing with neighbors or visitors for “best decorated” or “most lights.” Simple touches acknowledge the joyful season, are easily recycled/reused, and don’t become storage issues. I used to do event planning. I work better with a theme. I have small children. They love “Frozen.” And so we mutually decided we wanted to encourage warm hugs and warm hearts with our Frozen-themed décor during our first RV Christmas.

2 – Implement the 4 Gift Rule

In my RV Christmas quest, I found an idea on Pinterest. Simplifying Christmas with the 4 gift rule: Want, Wear, Need, Read. I loved the concept! This was the new tradition we needed. We held a family night and discussed the new plan. The kids tailored their lists.

3 – Get Older Kids Involved

So the whole Santa thing happens while the “children [are] nestled all snug in their beds, while vision of sugarplums dance in their heads.” The visions of sugarplums are usually due to a dose of sugar and the natural rush of anticipation; with actual sleep being sketchy at best. Add thin RV walls to the shallow sleep and there was potential for disaster.

We decided to recruit elf help…my 2 older kids. One roadblock. My 10 year old was at an 80/20 split on the reality of Santa. One night, after the Littles had gone to sleep we pulled the Bigs aside. I had nuanced our own version of the letter linked here. We then asked them to be our helpers on Christmas Eve. We explained that all items would be wrapped so they would still have surprises, but they would help us get last minute things rounded up and displayed for Christmas morning.

4 – Don’t Buy the Hype

When we lived in a sticks & bricks house I limited TV time to PBS, Netflix, or dvd’s starting in November. The advertising push is crazy strong for Christmas. And pretty soon you have incessant, “I want this! I want that!” It’s similar to the damn pizza commercials that come on right before dinner time. Ugh! Every year there’s the must-have toys and they’ll just end up in next year’s Salvation Army donation. Some full-timers pay a lot of money to have access to cable television. TV is not a priority for us and so we rarely see commercials anymore. But, the hype is still everywhere. We strive to emphasize the value of experiences, the making of memories, and items that will help them pursue a passion or develop a talent.

I even detest shopping during the Christmas season. Because the hype is real – even for grownups. We made our way to Florida by Thanksgiving. The campground allowed us to receive packages. Thus, our love affair with Amazon Prime continued. I also recommend Etsy and homemade gifts.

“It's not how much we give

but how much love we put into giving.” ― Mother Teresa

5 – Participate in a Family Gift Exchange

This is a precious family tradition. We set it in motion from the time our youngest children were barely cognizant. We all look forward to drawing a name within our family and focusing on that person in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Every year we try out a different gift-giving theme: $5 at a Dollar Store, a favorite dvd, a t-shirt that exemplifies the individual, etc. Last year we left it more open ended with a $10 purchase limit.

When I reflect on Brenna’s (7 years old) gift giving last Christmas it warms my heart and inspires me to put more love into giving. She drew her older sister’s name. She obsessed about just the right gift for weeks. She oozed with excitement at the thought of her sister’s reaction. She chose an item that she didn’t think would so quickly reach the $10 max. She was so disappointed because she had her heart set on one final item. She had overheard Bailey saying how much she enjoyed her Intro to Foreign Languages class in 7th grade because she got to sample REAL chocolate from Belgium. Without prompting Brenna offered to use her own money to buy some special chocolates from a fancy chocolatier. Her anticipation for the revealing was palpable. I’ll always remember her sweet face. And in return, her Dad gave Brenna what she later dubbed “the greatest gift EVER” – a pink stuffed owl.

6 – Open Your Tiny House Door and Make Room for More

We invited another full-time RV family (@RVFamilyLife – family of 5) to join us for Christmas Eve festivities. For dinner we had a table set up in the bunkhouse for the girls. The boys ate at the dinette. And the parents had the couch and a couple of folding chairs. It was warm & cozy. We enjoyed yummy food, played a hilarious game of Head-Bandz, and shared music & stories. Christmas is better with friends…even when you live in a tiny house.

Friendship is a precious gift. To give at Christmas time.

A cherished gift, a treasured gift

that lasts through all time.

~ Unknown

(WANT, WEAR, NEED, READ + Their stocking. It may appear to be more because the Santa loot is mixed with the gifts they received from 3 sets of grandparents.)


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