A Different Kind of Christmas Family / Finances / Goals / Personal / Volunteering

Christmas has been very different for us since we moved abroad, in more ways than just being far from extended family. Even before we left, we became disenchanted with certain aspects of the holiday, particularly surrounding gift giving.

Actually, I love giving and receiving gifts, but it’s not always as satisfying as I’d like. I think giving is most enjoyable for both sides when the person giving the gift is doing it freely and sincerely, and when the person receiving really wants or needs the gift and is grateful for it. If the needed gift comes as a surprise, that can enhance the experience even more. Unfortunately, these factors weren’t always the case when it came to holiday gift giving.

When we lived in the USA, we weren’t rich by North American standards, but we had everything we needed, and so did everyone else we knew. Gifts that people really wanted were usually out of any one person’s price range. And the pressure to buy a gift for all our extended family and close friends made the holidays more stressful. To help with this, the year before we left we simply bought everyone the same gift: a fun board game we ordered in bulk from Amazon.com — the games even came pre gift-wrapped. It was simple, but I suppose not all that personalized. Some years, Christmas giving almost seemed like we were trading money or gift cards back and forth without any real purpose — only because it’s what was expected. Of course we want to give meaningful gifts, and we appreciate the caring thoughts behind any gift we receive, but don’t we also end up buying the things we really need and want anyway?

The difference for us now is that we want and need so much less. We own only what we can fit into our carry-on suitcases. It’s not much, but it’s enough for us. We don’t want more, because then we’d have to carry it around with us wherever we go. We may replace items that are wearing out, but we already have everything we need. Maybe you do too?

This made for a different kind of Christmas last year, because Santa didn’t bring us any presents, and we only got each other small gifts. Our girls had already figured out the Santa myth before then, anyway, thanks in part to the Costa Rican tradition of gifts being brought by “baby Jesus” instead of Santa. Honestly, the holiday wasn’t quite as exciting as usual, but it was an intimate family day, and we enjoyed it.

Make a Difference in Someone’s Life

This year, we’re really excited about what we’re doing for Christmas! A few months ago, Emily was searching online (she’s a great little Googler) and came across a website called charitywater.org. She called for us to come to the computer and take a look at what she wanted for Christmas. After checking it out, we knew it’s what we wanted, too. Watch this quick video to learn about it. Then read on.

There are over 1 billion people in the world who do not have access to clean water. That’s one in eight of us. As the video explains, water affects every aspect of our lives. CharityWater.org provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations, and 100% of public donations go directly to fund water projects.

So, this Christmas we are not giving gifts to any family or friends. And we ask that you don’t give us any gifts either. Instead, let’s give to some people who really need it, and make a long-term difference in their lives.

Our goal is to raise $5,000 by December 31, which will provide clean drinking water for 250 people. In 18 months, we’ll also get pictures and a GPS location on a map of the completed water project. If you’d like to contribute and help us reach our goal, please visit the fundraiser page we set up at:


To me, this kind of giving — the kind that is needed and makes a difference — is what the Christmas spirit is all about.

Other Traveling Families

Check out how these other traveling families are handling gift giving around Christmas.

Brandon is a location independent entrepreneur, musician, worldschooling father, and the principal author of this blog. He's all about reaching his potential and enjoying life to the fullest in each moment.


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  4. Well said, as always!
    I remember feeling forced to buy gifts for people I barely knew only because they were going to be at the same Christmas party that we were going to. It seems silly now, but those meaningless gifts created a lot of stress.

    The holidays for us aren’t as dramatic as in the past…but they are more memorable.

    I love that Emily is such a giver…what a beautiful gift. Thanks Emily and the Pearce Family…we’ll be making our donation for this season.

    Happy Holidays to you!

  5. […] Pearce On Earth: A Different Kind of Christmas –  https://pearceonearth.com/a-different-kind-of-christmas/ […]

  6. Jennifer Pearce Says: December 1, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Way to go Emily for finding this opportunity for us. :) It’s staggering that so many people in this world are still lacking such a basic essential as clean water. I’m glad this organization is doing something to make such a difference. I feel honored to be part of such a needed cause.

  7. Brandon — good selection. One young girl here in Washington State chose the same gift for her 9th birthday, sadly she was killed in auto accident a month later — here is the result http://mycharitywater.org/p/campaign?campaign_id=16396

  8. What a wonderful project. I’ve made a holiday donation to help further your goal and will be anxiously watching the progress as others offer their support. I love hearing and reading about organizations like this which devote themselves to conquering some of life’s biggest challenges. There are many, many worthwhile causes out there that deserve support. Thanks, Emily, for finding this one.

    Hugs to you all.

  9. You know you’re still going to get a holiday package though :)

  10. What a great idea! And all the more meaningful that it was Emily’s.

  11. I really can relate to a lot of the thoughts and feelings you described. I’m delighted to join in giving a gift that makes a real difference. Thanks for inviting us to participate. I’m so proud of Emily for her desire to help others.

  12. I’m sitting in my warm lovely room listening to Christmas music (i’m not Christian but I love the sound track) and am reading your post. Craig and I donate a lot of change to local charities. We are a very well known business in the county and it’s almost expected. Sometimes we feel streched pretty thin but there is so much more we could do by shifting priorities. Thanks Emily.

  13. Gosh I love you different kind of christmas….we so take water for granted! To have to walk that far – that is crazy!
    I love how you want to make a difference. It only takes one little to make a difference – giving is one of the most important things for this xmas

  14. Great idea! We like to do “alternative” giving too! Clean, safe water is a WONDERFUL gift!

  15. What a wonderful, worthwhile project. Thank you Emily for finding this project. I appreciate and love all of you for the compassion you show for others.

  16. Ahh…. no wonder why my RSS feed wasn’t updating – a new site! Looks good.. I’m following along and am jealous! -David

  17. Honestly a great idea. I will be donating this morning. Merry Christmas!! And please (if you were planning on getting Kennedy or me a gift) put anything you were planning on spending on us toward this organization as well :)

    Love you!!

  18. What a great idea–so much more meaningful than meaningless gifts. Hopefully in time more of mainstream Western society will embrace this sort of gift giving.

  19. I stumbled upon this post as I research our Christmas in Penang this year. We have been living in a tiny Bhutanese village this year as volunteers and have learned a lot about what you really need. I was really excited to come across the links to all the other travelling families and ideas about how you are conceptualising Christmas. I feel like I have more confidence in my thoughts about making Christmas memorable, not becuase the kids get a mountain of toys, but that we do something fun and outof theordinary together. Thank you! Do you bloggers still get together to do group writing like this?

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