I was born holiday blessed. Yet the moment I married into the military, I became holiday cursed. My husband has deployed four times over Christmas, suffered travel orders every December and always pulled the duty section that worked on Christmas Day.
I would like to say I was always completely OK with this particular chain of events. Indeed, I was not. So I took notes from spouses who seemed like they knew what they were doing when it came to celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or Winter Solstice alone.
If you are going through your first or second or fifth holiday deployment, here are some of the things we hear from our Military.com readers that really help couples get through the holidays:
During our first Christmas deployment, every time I thought of my husband on the ship alone at Christmas, I overflowed with tears. I couldn’t imagine anything more lonely. I was all of 22. So every time I saw something that reminded me of Christmas, I imagined my darling and burst into tears (which is why I think certain people should not be married at 22 … just sayin’).
Other people did not understand this. Other people never really understand what it feels like to have your loved one deployed over the holidays. Our readers say that a Deployment Christmas happens to you alone -- even if you live in a town populated by other deploying military families. No one can help you with this more than you can help yourself. So carry your own tissues and keep moving forward.
Drink of The Milk of Human Kindness
During a holiday deployment, you will be surrounded by opportunities to enjoy the holidays with other people. School concerts, holiday pageants, parties at work and volunteer opportunities will happen just like they do when your servicemember is at home. Don’t avoid the kindness of other people just because you are alone. Decide you will attend everything you are invited to for at least one hour. Then you can go home if you want and drink of the milk called Egg Nog and Skype your darling.
Cool It On The Care Packages
Depending on where your service member is stationed, they may not have space for a lot of stuff you send in a care package. Now is the time to talk about what your service member wants most -- which will be YOU. And a bunch of other stuff that cannot go in a care package. Hear that and know that this means you are not required to send them something that will make them so happy that they will not notice they are deployed on Dec. 25. That isn’t possible. Instead, take some of the pressure off and send the little things that say you care.
Gather Your Team
Ask yourself where you will feel happiest on the big day -- at home? With family? With friends? Then go there. When my kids were 8 and 4, I wanted them to have Santa surrounded by lots of people who loved them. So I packed everything and went to my parents' house even though my neighbors thought I was crazy to take on the trip. My brothers spontaneously decided we would have an all-day Monopoly tournament Christmas Day, which really distracted me from the fact my husband was gone. Yay for awesome brothers!
Do It For The Kids
During my husband’s last Christmas deployment, I wished Christmas would just not come that year. I wished we could skip it. Instead, I had an eight-year-old who gave me the countdown to Christmas every single day. His sister wanted to bake a bunch of cookies. Their brother wanted to make out with his girlfriend in front of the Christmas tree. Creating holiday memories for our kids was the motivation I needed most. My husband eagerly read the emails with all our holiday details. And our kids remember those Deployed Christmases just as happily. Totally worth it.
Employ Whackadoo Holiday Traditions
One of the things about being a military family at the holidays is that you often have to improvise. You can’t go to the same holiday service at your childhood church because you live 1,200 miles away from your childhood church. You can’t go to the same light show or concert you saw last year because you don’t live anywhere near where you lived last year.
One important thing grown military brats say that made the difference was all the silly little holiday traditions their parents carried from house to house. At our house, we wear these silky robes my sailor brought home from Okinawa one year. Our managing editor’s family looks for a local greasy spoon for pancakes on Christmas Eve wherever they are stationed. One of our bloggers relies on new pajamas and yet another showing of the Griswolds to make it through the day. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat until a tradition is made.
Plan Your Endgame
Sometimes during a holiday deployment, you are having a good time. Sometimes you have just had enough holiday fun. Sometimes you get tired of trying to make everyone feel better about your holiday situation. Sometimes all this happens within the course of a single hour. Cheryl Gansner, one of our SpouseBuzz bloggers, says that the most positive thing you can do for yourself is to set a boundary for when it is OK to leave the festivities. Telling people you are going to head up to the shower (and then sneaking off to bed) is usually socially acceptable. Keeping up appearances does not have to last 24/7.
Talk To Your Service Member
Our Military.com readers report that when they were deployed over the holiday, the command went all out to provide a nice meal and holiday cheer. Still, it was just another day, which meant they could sometimes be short on the phone. Or a little irritable. Or hungry for every single detail of home. Be open to whatever spirit your service member brings to the phone or Skype or email that day. You are “home” to them and this is a great day to celebrate that.
It Is Only One Day
Our readers say that the loneliest moment in military life is when you deliver a baby on your own. The only thing that is lonelier is Christmas Day on your own. The last time we did a Christmas deployment, I invited our usual houseful of guests -- our kids, the boyfriends and girlfriends, our friends the Petersons, the Petersons' visiting mother-in-law. I had them all. I talked to my husband twice that day. Everything was beautiful. The food was perfect ... and I found myself lingering in hallways as if I could slip around unnoticed, uninvolved. I secretly wanted the holiday to be over and I didn’t want anyone else to know about it. I wanted to get to my bed and call Brad and have him tell me that I had done a good job. That he was proud of me. That we would be together next year.
Your Turn Next Year
December holidays roll around every year without fail. This time next yearm your servicemember will most likely be home. The cookies will taste a little crisper. Your tree will shine a little brighter. Your holiday hugs will be a little warmer. Use this holiday apart to bring your family closer than ever.
Keep Up with the Ins and Outs of Military Life
For the latest military news and tips on military family benefits and more, subscribe to Military.com and have the information you need delivered directly to your inbox.