By Andrea Tice

I was walking down the plentiful aisles of Hobby Lobby recently and turned into the Christmas section and …

There it was. On an eye-level shelf was a green ceramic Christmas tree with built-in colored light bulbs that did in fact light up once plugged in. It’s the size of a cookie jar, with the same glossy sheen all over its cone shape. I would never choose it for my home since I consider it too gaudy, but just like a whiff of a certain aroma or the refrain from an old song can instantly put you back into a childhood memory, so did spotting this tree take me back to one Christmas in particular.

My family of two parents, two brothers, myself and a dog were in the country of Belize. It’s in Central America and was once British Honduras. My parents had agreed to move there for a year to help run a church while the head pastor took a furlough. We arrived in Belize in a large van, pop-up camper in tow, and limited belongings. We ended up about 30 miles outside of Belize city where the pastor there wasted no time in grabbing his wife and kids, jumping in their car, muttering some instructions over his shoulder and heading for the U.S. for some much-needed respite. (I honestly don’t think they even bothered to pack bags)

Housing for this gig was up the road from the church on a small plot of land that had been cleared and fenced in from the dense jungle. There was a 25-foot RV we were given to live in, tucked under a large thatched pavilion, plus we put the pop-up camper next to it to make a sort of extension in living and sleeping space. There was a generator for electricity as needed and a cistern for water, and old-timey tubs for doing laundry outdoors. So, there we plopped in the boonies. I was 15 at the time, my brothers were two years older and two years younger than me.

And so began an interesting time of learning, adjusting, laughing and crying as we took part in this new cultural/extended camping experience, served in a tiny church, and all squeezed into that RV for meals, showers, school, and family time. This was before the brilliant invention of popouts for RVs so things were T-I-G-H-T. Maybe that is why whenever I drive by an RV sales place I have a compelling desire to look inside and see how floor space and maneuverability have been so much better designed and incorporated since the 1980s. I mean some of these new ones have fake fireplaces, for Pete’s sake!

The daily routine at the main wing of the estate (read: front of the RV) was this thing called the meal time shuffle, which consisted of at least two people at all times remaining in their chairs at the mini table while the other two-to-three decided if they wanted to get out, get in, get more food on their plate or get some blood flowing into one of their legs that had fallen asleep. Once someone got tired of the foot- knee- and shoulder-grazing they would move out of the two square foot patch of floor space and sit down. Then those sitting could venture into the fray or not, but very rarely did we all get up at once for anything - the resulting knotted mess and frustration was just not worth it.

When Christmas season rolled around, it was without question going to be a different and quite “muted” experience, in physical terms. The idea of adding any type of decoration to this tin can on wheels seemed massively untenable, even downright suffocating - until my mom found a small box left by the missionary in a nearby shed.

In that box were two items I remember well: a 12-inch tall green light-up ceramic tree and a dozen packets to make your own Christmas ornaments. We put the ceramic tree on the 6-inch window ledge behind the transforming couch my brother used as a bed at night. We then dug into the crafts to see what it required and - whoo boy - were we in for something! These DIY ornaments involved styrofoam balls and cones that could be glammed up with sequins, beads and ribbons, inserted into the ball by way of a straight pin. There were color charts and pattern graphs for placing those pins and then connecting tassels and doo-dads, for lack of a more technical term. 

Grossly out of place in a trailer? You betcha. The sequins were guaranteed to peak at 10 on the Tack-o-meter. But wow, what a challenge. What man-hours it took curled up on the couch or at the mini table to complete these projects and hang them across the back window where the gaudy ceramic tree was. We had limited space for those little containers of pins and beads, and somehow I don’t remember an upset or spill. Miraculous. Or maybe I’ve blocked that out as too painful to recall. I do remember that we had no thimble for pushing in those pins. After a while, it started to hurt our fingers and split our skin. By the time it was all done we each had a permanent indent or crack the size of a pinhead in the middle of our thumbs. But still, we persisted in getting every last packet done since the glitterful ornaments and the tree were the only visual reminders that the holiday was upon us inside that trailer. And so the day came and went with no less celebration or fun than if we had 1,000 more square feet to work with.

I don't know whatever happened to those ornaments. We did not bring them back to the U.S. with us. But they served their purpose well that year by giving us something creative to do for Christmas in light of our constricted quarters, limited resources, and lonely location. I’m sure I got some gifts on Christmas day as well - very small ones, most likely books. But none of the gifts stand out in my memory like those bedazzled ornaments and the stubby little tree that made for the most trailer-made Christmas possible.

Fast forward to 2021 and all the images and visuals telling us or selling us on how this season should look and feel here in our homes. Americans lean toward the “more is more magnificent” mentality when it comes to ushering in the season. My chief piece of evidence in that claim is all the yard inflatables I drive by, which is when I sing “Jesus take the wheel” as a Christmas carol. (If I think a 12-inch ceramic tree is gaudy imagine how a yard of inflatables affects me!) I think everyone should be so fortunate as to experience (at least once) some other version of Christmas that is stripped down of all that we think is necessary to make it outwardly “successful.” Instead, we should be forced to evaluate and recognize what spiritual elements are present (or perhaps not) in our lives. A stripped-down trailer-made Christmas has a way of revealing the finer intangibles that are really at the core of the holiday. 

Proverbs says ‘it’s better to live on a rooftop with a morsel of bread than to eat a feast in a mansion with a nagging wife” (or husband, let’s be gender-fair!). In other words, the physical is no match for the metaphysical, whether it be good or bad. The unseen values, motives, tone and tenor will always bear more weight on a situation and its outcome than whatever physical accoutrements are engaged to either disguise or enhance it. Better to have a bare minimum Christmas where there is love, acceptance, joy and faith as the undergirding spirit than a whiz-bang glamorous (and roomy) house full of gifts and fine decor where the understanding of who made this day possible is just not realized. Better to have a trailer-made celebration with little to nothing in the middle of nowhere but still Christ at the core, than a tailor-made decorated extravaganza that misses the point entirely.

Andrea Tice is the editor of the Daily Detail at 1819 News. She can be reached at