I. Love. Christmas. Any holiday, really. A few days ago, somebody asked me why I liked Christmas so much, and I said, “I love Santa, reindeer, candy, Christmas trees, cookies, snow, lights, stockings, ornaments, Christmas movies, Christmas music, and elves.” I’m not sure at what point they walked away, but by the time I got to elves I was def talking to my wine glass.

Oops. But you’ll notice, I didn’t say presents. Of course, I love presents, but I think that people become too focused on them around the holidays. Christmas could go by without any presents, and I’d be fine, though then my beloved Santa, elves, and reindeer would be out of work and my Dad would be pointedly reminding me that I voted for Obama (and will again, somewhat less enthusiastically, in 2012).

Thanks to some quality VHS tapes, there’s one family Christmas that I will always remember. My four-year-old cousin tears open a present’s wrapping to reveal a battery-operated car. He’s excited at first, then begins to look around frantically. “Where’s the remote control?!” he asks, panicky. When it turns out there isn’t one, he does a very bad job hiding his disappointment. Today, it makes for a hilarious family video, but it definitely reflects upon some bigger holiday issues.

Several years back, I spent six weeks in Kenya and Tanzania. For part of my trip, I volunteered at a community center and orphanage and participated in a rural homestay. Though the homestay is a story in itself, what I want to mention here are the local children. I got to know them on my daily walks, as they would follow me like a herd of jackrabbits (they herd, right?).

Tanzanian boy smiling and holding tire rim toy
My host brother, Abdullah.
This was my first experience with extreme poverty, and it was eye-opening. But what I was absolutely shocked by was just how damn happy the kids were, with pretty much no material possessions. They wouldn’t have known what to do with a battery-operated car, with or without a remote control.

Tanzanian boy in overalls holding trash ball
This boy was a little nervous about the camera, but he really loved his ball.

These photos here show them with their toys, which were, essentially, composed of trash. Soccer balls made of plastic bags were common, and old tires were one of the choicest toys around.

So, if you’re bummed you didn’t get the new iPad, or can’t be home for the holidays because you’re lucky enough to be traveling, I hope this serves as a good reminder to be grateful for what you do have, and that possessions don’t mean happiness. I know looking at these photos always does that for me. 

Happy Tanzanian children running and playing
Some of my Tanzanian crew. Look at those smiles!
This is part of the Postcard series, a regular feature on Travel Junkette, where I share photo and stories of past travels. If you enjoyed it, why not sign up for my RSS feed, or like TJ on Facebook?