Our Family’s Nomadic Christmas in France

Christmas in Avignon

Our family spent a nomadic Christmas in France – and it was perfect. So, how do you celebrate Christmas with a 9-year-old while traveling? What do you do about presents when you are living out of backpacks?

For the last 9 months of travel, we’ve carried all of our belongings on our backs. Every piece of clothing, important document, and electronic device that we need is stuffed into one of our backpacks. The limited space and the cumulative weight forces us to prioritize and simplify. We make choices based on how much each item weighs, how much space it will take up, how much we *really* need it, and if it has more than one use.

As we’ve travelled through Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, England, Croatia, Italy, Hungary, and now France, there have been countless items that we would have loved to purchase as a souvenir, but it’s simply not an option. Our backpacks are already stuffed to the gills. We sold our home back in the US, so we can’t ship it there. In the end, whatever it is, we don’t need it and it’s no great loss. We’ve learned that possessions aren’t what bring happiness.

We knew that we couldn’t buy a bunch of presents. Luckily, we’ve always tried to go light on the physical gifts and focus more on the experience of the holiday. In the past, we’ve attended The Nutcracker and the Christmas Revels, had breakfast with Santa, chopped down and decorated our own Christmas tree, enjoyed the holiday light displays, baked cookies, spent time with friends and family, gone ice skating, etc.

This year we’re spending our holidays in Hungary and France. We’ve spent a fair amount of time strolling through the Christmas Markets and seeking out various holiday events and displays. We bought fresh gingerbread at the bakery. We’ve decorated our apartment with some colored lights and garland. We even have a tiny living Christmas tree.

On Christmas Eve, we’ll read The Night Before Christmas and eat a Bûche de Noël (a traditional French Christmas cake shaped like a Yule log). We’ll listen to Christmas music, watch Christmas shows, and talk about all that we are grateful for.

On Christmas morning, our son will open a few small gifts that we’ll leave under the tiny potted Christmas tree. We’ve had to keep it simple. Each item had to be small, light, and usable or consumable. He’ll be receiving a robot pen, a funky wristwatch, a colorful sand-timer, a magnifying glass, and some gourmet chocolates. Later in the day, we hope to take a bike ride through the quiet streets of Avignon, enjoy a picnic in the sunshine, and perhaps try ice skating in the square. Later in the evening, we’ll video chat with friends and family.

The best part of Christmas, and the thing we’ll miss the most this year, is spending time with family and friends. The video chats will help, but it’s not the same. That said, we’re so grateful that our little family is together and that we are lucky enough to be on this incredible adventure. It’s the best gift that anyone could ask for.