Here at Yakima, a lot of us are traveling “home” for the holidays. To some that means a ten minute drive, or a plane ride to Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Indiana. For one of our favorite van lifers, Brianna Madia, “Home for the holidays” means snuggling down with her husband and two pups in their home, Bertha.
I press my nose to the frozen glass of the passenger window. The humming of our van’s engine slows as we meander aimlessly through dark suburban streets. We peer in through passing windows just beyond porches and lawns lit up with lights and inflatable Santas and white wire reindeer to see families gathered around tables and fires roaring up chimneys…children in matching pajamas and lively games of charades…mulled wine and stockings and piles of presents beneath glimmering trees…
It’s Christmas Eve. Our first ever spent living in a van.
We roll along in a hushed silence like secret holiday voyeurs, staring in at lives we used to lead, as Frank Sinatra croons, “hang a shining star upon the highest bough…” from our stereo.
Yes, there’s something about the holidays that shines a spotlight on minimalism. It is a cozy, well-lit, opulent, often excessive season…and for the first time in our lives, we are watching it pass by outside the iced-over windows of our frigid little orange snow globe.
Once we’d had our fill of people-watching, we found a quiet corner beneath a dimly flickering street light to park for the night. We covered the windshield and front windows and waited patiently for the click-click-clicking of our tiny propane heater as we burrowed beneath sleeping bags and blankets and heavy quilts. We wondered aloud whether Santa Claus would leave presents in the roof box or simply slip in through the exhaust pipe. And eventually, we drifted off to sleep right there on the street in front of someone else’s house.
The following morning, Keith cracked the sliding door of the van and leaned out to scoop a pile of freshly fallen snow into our Jetboil, which we quickly turned into the perfect cup of Christmas morning coffee. Through our little portable speaker, we played all our favorite Bing Crosby songs as we presented the small pile of gifts we had purchased for our dogs. Remarkably, we managed to only light one piece of wrapping paper on fire when it was accidentally tossed too close to our propane heater.
I suppose as a young girl, I wouldn’t have ever pictured myself spending Christmas morning parked on the side of the road somewhere. For a majority of my life, holidays were big to-do’s. Christmas pageants and breakfast casseroles and long drives to grandma’s house and matching pajamas…
But there’s a certain contentment we’ve found in the tradition of simply having no traditions. It’s difficult to cling to any type of certainty or routine or expectation in a life on the road. The world seems to slip through your fingers as easily as it slips by your passenger window.
This year, we’ve decided to drive down to one of our favorite spots in the middle of the desert and wrap some twinkle lights around a juniper tree. We’ll eat pancakes over an early morning fire and watch our dogs chase rabbits down long dirt roads and watch the slow winter sun thaw tiny frozen ice crystals from our windshield. Next year…who knows.
That’s the beauty of spending Christmas in a big orange tin can.