Celebrating holidays on a sailboat

It’s been six months since we moved out of our house in Portland and onto our boat.

I rarely miss living in a house. Not even when washing the dishes by hand, not even when lugging our laundry to a laundromat and not even when trying to cram my jacket in a hanging locker filled with spare line and two toolboxes.

Now is the time—the holidays—I miss living in a house. Christmas has always been a big deal in my family, and I carried on that tradition when I had kids. We always had cookies (so many), gifts (too much) and gobs of decor.

This is the first year we are spending Christmas on our sailboat. Living in such a small space that rocks and rolls with the waves means we need to forgo some of those longtime traditions and create some new ones.

I’ll admit to feeling a little sulky at first when it became clear we didn’t have room for a tree. But my pout is over. Here’s some of what we are doing this year to celebrate the season while living afloat.

Eating Christmas cookies by the quarter-dozen

These low-carb cookies taste way better than they look.

It’s been said that American put on an average of 5 pounds during the holidays.* The thought is all those cookies, cakes and high-calorie drinks really pack on the pounds.

I’m not particularly concerned about this, though. We are still doing cookies this year, just not so many.

For those unfamiliar, our boat oven is about the same size as a large microwave. This is typical for boat ovens. This means there is barely enough room for one baking sheet, and it needs to be a small one at that. We can bake only about four or five cutout cookies at the time, have no room for a stand-up mixer and counter space for rolling out dough is very limited. All this means the chances of gorging on cookies is very slim, no pun intended..

Smaller ovens. Why has no one considered using this as a dieting tactic?

Less space = fewer gifts

Here’s is the ghost of Christmas past: A 6-foot tree lit up, adorned with a lifetime of ornaments and with a pile of shiny presents underneath.

I’ve been guilty of spoiling my kids with too many gifts in the past, and Lord knows we accumulated way too much stuff while living in our house in Portland. After hustling to get rid of about 85% of our crap before moving out, I vowed to be a much more discerning consumer in the future.

The realities of living on a 39-foot sailboat are keeping me honest. There will be no pile of shiny presents under a tree this year, and I won’t have to kick myself in January for getting my son that 7,500-piece Millennium Falcon Lego set that will eventually end up in tiny pieces scattered all over his floor.

We just don’t have the room, so gifts this year are special, practical, few.

No tree, but we do have a mast

The kiddos got into the holiday spirit.

My husband jokingly rejoiced that we’d have no room for a Christmas tree or gobs of decorations on the boat. And it’s true, we don’t. However, I did let the resident Grinch know that we would be making room for some bells and whistles during the holiday season.

We have stockings, lights, a little tinsel and a Christmas tablecloth. None of these things will go flying when the sailboat heels. I can’t use the Advent calendar I’ve used for the past 10 years, but we do have room for little chocolate ones for the kids.

We also ran some lights up the mast.

We put lights up on S/V Polaris for the first time this year, and helped our dock win the marina’s holiday decoration contest.

Best of all, Christmas music doesn’t take up any space on a boat. We can listen to Feliz Navidad on frequent rotation, house or not!

Despite these changes to our traditions, we’re in the holiday spirit this year. For us, that means slowing down and finding ways to enjoy each other more. That is plenty easy to do on a sailboat.

As long as there are cookies.

*Quick note: A study from 2000, showed that Americans actually gain only about 1 pound during this time period. But hey, the diet industry isn’t letting facts get in the way of a good guilt campaign, so why should I?

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