As I progress through life, I discover that change is the one predictable thing. When my three children were growing up—and even after they left home for college and careers—I decorated a tree for Christmas. I planned festive meals for my family and friends, including a breakfast and a dinner on Christmas Day. I shook my head in dismay that anyone would want to deviate from a traditional Christmas at home. Opening presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Gathering around the dining table for our family’s recipe of cornbread dressing, turkey and ham, sweet potatoes, pecan pie, Mother’s applesauce cake—all the dishes that carry tastes and smells of the holidays.
Then it happened. Change. I spent one Christmas in a motel adjoining the hospital where my first husband lay in ICU. The next year, my son died—followed by his dad a year later. My cousin with whom I’d shared every holiday since childhood died. His children married and made plans with their extended families. I married Lee—and my family grew to include his children and grandchildren. And one Christmas, I did not want to spend a whole day putting ornaments on a tree—and then another day storing it all away.
The meaning of Christmas remains. I still love the colorful twinkling lights, the sound of carols, the parades, the parties, the cards, and the celebration of the birth of Christ. But my enjoyment comes from a floor to ceiling tree in my daughter’s home, lights at Silver Dollar City, my neighbor’s decorated lawn, and tinsel and glitter in the storefronts of my hometown.
One December, much to the dismay of our families, Lee and I decided to spend Christmas in Mexico—an idea that would have shocked me at an earlier age. We had bought a membership in Colorado Adventures (a group of resorts along the Colorado River in Arizona and California) that included a month-long stay at the fishing village of El Golfo, approximately 100 miles south of Yuma. We packed our motorhome and headed for Yuma Lakes Resort where we joined a caravan of other RVers crossing the border to El Golfo. The American resort perched on the sandy beach of the Sea of Cortez. We settled into our space and acquainted ourselves with neighbors. Some introduced us to a charming restaurant in the small village. The proprietor even threw a welcoming party for the Americans and Canadians who traveled to Mexico for Christmas.
Daytime, we walked the beach, or sometimes took our Jeep miles south where we seldom met others. We let Spot off his leash to frolic in the surf. Other days, we drove north of El Golfo to the Sonoran Desert. Never had I encountered a place so vast, so still, and so full of mystery. We scoured the sand between cacti for pieces of petrified wood while our imaginations tried to envision that dry desert as a forest in previous centuries .
Evenings, we often participated in karaoke at the club house. We played card games with new friends and joined neighbors in impromptu potlucks. On Sundays, we attended church services led by the resort’s pastor in the club house.
Many RVers decorated their windows for the holiday. Small trees glittered. Outdoor lights twinkled on coaches. One evening, a group walked the park singing carols. On Christmas Day, we joined others for a prime rib feast in the clubhouse. Volunteers decorated the tables with festive cloths and centerpieces. Homemade goodies passed from table to table.
Neither of us had ever celebrated Christmas away from our home and families. But change turned our lives, our perspectives, and our time-worn traditions inside out. Although we have not spent a Christmas since away from home, we often celebrate Christmas Day with marathon movies in a city theater. With two families now, we arrange time with each on days that fit their busy schedules. And we no longer decorate a tree. Christmas is no less important—but change has made it different.
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Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com