“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain. This is one of my favorite quotes. I believe the sentiment so strongly that I have a tattered printed version at my desk in the travel agency. I have also included it on my travel agency’s website. Call me a hopeless optimist but I believe that travel, not diplomats, are the path to world peace. Face to face interactions help us to understand and participate in the customs of other cultures. When we travel and share a meal we’re showing respect for the local way of life and participating in yet another thing every living creature has in common besides breathing: taking in sustenance. If nothing else, we discard the differences and enjoy indigenous commonalities. Travel allows us to step out of our comfort zone and if we allow it, to also reshape our notions about people who don’t look like us, talk like us nor dress like us. Perhaps this holiday season, this year, you’re seeking something meaningful, maybe even life changing? Therefore, what better time than the most wonderful time of the year, to give your family the most wonderful gift of their lives? Giving the gift of travel to your family opens magical worlds. If you introduce both children and adults to other ways of life they learn acceptance of other cultures. They understand and eventually grow to appreciate history. We often take for granted all that we have. Your family may develop compassion and empathy when they see, firsthand, how little others around the world have and how hard life can be. That’s not a bad thing. Perhaps they’ll realize a desire to help others who barely have a roof over their heads. Sometimes kindness and compassion form naturally. Sometimes they need to be taught, preferably by example. Here are some ideas to entice you to eschew the commercialism of the holiday and embrace the love of the season.
Experiential travel is a growing trend for families looking for something more engaging than sitting on a beach. That “more” could be discovering ancient civilizations such as the Incas. Trips to Costa Rica, Mexico and Belize are common during the Summer months. Travel to these destinations during the holidays allow you to celebrate Christmas in predominantly Roman Catholic cultures with a Central American twist. Parades in every town feature the Holy family and their search for accommodations. The emphasis is on “Baby Jesus” and far less Santa Claus. The mood is celebratory and at the same time reverent. Your children may make friends with other kids who don’t look like your kids and who may not speak your language. Fortunately, children have a unique ability to move beyond or not recognize economic differences as they play with trucks in the sand or take a turn striking a piñata. You can also zipline in Costa Rica, the country where it originated or see the turtles burying their eggs in Tortuguero. You won’t want to let the kiddies know that they’ll be learning something. After all, it is vacation time.
“Voluntourism” This hybrid word represents the fastest growing trend in the travel industry. Combining volunteer work with travel allows for meaningful and rewarding interaction while visiting a destination. Whether you choose to help humans by teaching skills that improve hygiene or construction or promoting skill sets for women to improve their economic security, the benefits are long lasting. Including your children in the effort teaches them to become citizens of a world that extends beyond their cell phones. They learn to look past their bedroom walls, their towns and their borders and to see all humans as equals. If animals and wildlife are your passion, as they are mine, there are many opportunities. Compassion may come naturally to some. To others, Voluntourism helps them develop a sense of empathy and perhaps a desire to volunteer. I can think of no better way to embody the spirit of the holiday than by giving back to others.
“Faith based Travel” December is absolutely replete with religious and cultural holidays. In alphabetical order you have Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa, which, in a cluster of joy, this year are all being celebrated during the same week. The celebration of Chanukah, which can be spelled several different ways, is not observed as a religious holiday. It’s more like a fun festival. The miracle of a one day supply of oil lasting for 8 days is represented by the Menorah, a candle holder featuring 8 candles plus one called the Shamash used to light the other candles. On the first night of observation one candle is lit. On the second night, two candles are lit and continues until the eighth and final night when all the candles are burning bright.
Foods that are cooked in oil such as potato pancakes, called latkes, are traditionally served in addition to sufganiyot, or as we know them: jelly donuts! Yum. The arrival of Christmas Eve is heralded in two places; Vatican City in Italy where Midnight Holy Mass is celebrated by the Pope and in Jerusalem at Church of the Nativity. An annual re-creation of the search for a place to stay for the night when the inns were full leads the faithful to Manger Square. The entrance to the church is a low doorway that forces you to bow to enter. My guide explained that the height of the door was designed to prevent disrespectful behavior by nonbelievers who would enter the church on donkeys. You must also bow or kneel on the ground to peer through a fourteen-point silver star embedded in white marble which covers the Altar of the Nativity, the birthplace of Christ. Overhead, a gold and silver chandelier lights the vestibule that bears the inscription: “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est” which translates as: “Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary”. It’s crowded yet the visitors are reverent. No travel is required to celebrate Kwanzaa which has its roots based in African culture. It is observed in private homes from December 26 to January 1 and is a uniquely African American celebration. Void of the commercial glitz that often accompanies the dominant holidays allows it to be a personal and fulfilling holiday. Seven days feature seven principles, focusing on personal strength and empowerment that include: Unity, Self-Determination, Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. It is a time of renewal, introspection and community.
However you celebrate, whatever you celebrate, we at Embassy Travel wish you peace in the coming year.