We Have a Winner...

It took us a while to choose a winner for the December "What's Your Story" contest, but we finally have one! After you read the winning essay, I think you'll agree that it's appropriate we're publishing this after Christmas.

Congratulations to Lauren, a Proud Army Wife. Lauren reminded us that there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to celebrating the Holiday season.

Here's my holiday story... Holidays can often be wonderful, and also just the opposite. So many things affect our moods during the holiday season. For a military spouse, deployments definitely have a way of putting a damper on the holiday spirits.My husband was deployed for his fourth tour to Kuwait/ Iraq just 3 months after we got married. The timing was awful, because he left in October, just two days before my birthday and just in time for the start of the "holiday season". I was new to town, and I only had one friend at the time. So like many others, I created projects to do. Instead of being completely bummed by the thought of Christmas, I attempted to embrace the idea. I created my own version of the "Twelve Days of Christmas" by sending themed packages and letters to my deployed husband well in advance of the holidays. Although I made an effort to have them arrive in order, they managed to get to him in random spurts anyway. He enjoyed the packages just the same. I included plenty of goody bags and treats to share with his comrades, too. I actually put together over 250 Soldier Survival Kits to share some cheer with each member of my husband's unit. I wanted each soldier to know that they were going to be missed during the holidays.I decorated my apartment, which was a fairly new home for me anyway. I tried to add cheer to my first home away from my parents' home; I bought a tree, new ornaments, a door wreath and lots of other festive décor. I slowly gathered gifts for my husband, buying things that would create our perfect Christmas. Knowing that he wasn't going to be home for Christmas, I didn't have the usual panic to rush around for the perfect gift. I bought things slowly as I saw them - things that were on sale during the holiday season, and also things that were on special after Christmas had passed. I decorated my Christmas tree with red, white, and blue ornaments. I hung a yellow ribbon at the top of the tree near the star topper. I wrapped up pajamas for our "Christmas Eve gift." I bought Santa hats that read "Naughty" on one side and "Nice" on the other. Of course, I planned to wear the "Nice" side and planned for him to be the "Naughty" one. Each day, the pile under the tree got bigger, and the apartment became more decorated. I knew that I had to make this Christmas a special one, even if it wasn't going to come until springtime.As the days passed and winter became spring, I was constantly reminded that my new husband had missed Christmas at home with me. There were many days that I became depressed at the sight of that Christmas tree, especially once it was February and then March.But I kept my hope- the hope that we would have the best Christmas ever. And in April, we did. The night my husband returned from his fourth deployment, we had our special "Christmas Eve" together. We opened our new pajama sets that night, and we wore them to bed. We woke up the next morning to enjoy our own Christmas. I had Christmas music playing in the background. There were lots presents for him, some for both of us, and a few for me. Even though I had wrapped all of the presents myself, it had been so long that I forgot what a few of them were. We had a great time together, laughing and enjoying our special holiday. We put our ornament on the tree that said "Our First Christmas." My hopes were that we would get another one in December that read, "Our First Christmas Together."

That day, my husband sat on the floor in his new pajamas, playing with his Atari Flashback game that he had just opened. He was grinning ear-to-ear and he looked just like a young boy looks after opening all his Christmas presents. It was truly a priceless moment. That one special day was well worth all those spring days of waking up alone in our fully decorated apartment. That was our first Christmas, and a very special one, too!

Well done, Lauren.

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