Along with the joy and cheer, the holiday season often presents unique challenges for military families: deployments, TDYs and duty schedules must continue, all regardless of the season. Just like our careers and china, military families learn to PCS-proof their holidays with traditions that travel.
Growing up, my family always bought our Christmas tree from the same family farm as a way to kick off the holiday season. It was a tradition, and offered a comforting consistency to my childhood. I can't repeat the same experience for my son, but there are ways we can create holiday traditions even within the parameters our military-directed travels creates.
Holiday Traditions that Don't Care About PCSingExplore New Towns. Each December, we kick off our holiday on the weekend after Thanksgiving by searching out an ornament that represents our current duty station. Our tradition is that we can't put up our Christmas tree until we choose one and it’s the first ornament hung on the tree that year. Not only are we learning more about our new home, we are seeking a keepsake to remind us of it, always.
Air Force spouse Jennifer Lambert and her family take advantage of local opportunities wherever their orders take them. “We spent holidays at the beach when we lived in Hawaii,” she said. “Now that we're in Europe, we travel, travel, travel.”
Reach Out With Personalized Cards. Each move takes us to a new place with different scenery and a different climate during the holidays. One year, snow might be on the ground, while the next we’re spending Thanksgiving in bathing suits. Taking a family photo that shows how you’re spending your Christmas is a neat way to commemorate your current location. Loved one is deployed? Add them in by holding a framed picture of them, or bring a decorative sign to the photo shoot that can be held up by a member of the family that says, “With love from the Smiths in Maine and Afghanistan!”
Give Back. No matter where you’re stationed, charitable organizations and shelters are always in need of volunteers. Holiday traditions centered on giving back will be available wherever you live. You can choose to sponsor a child in needs, or volunteer as a family at a shelter for a holiday meal. Collect donations for the local animal shelter or dedicate a morning to walking shelter dogs. Get the kids involved by letting them help pick out toys to donate to Toys for Tots, ensuring they always see the holidays as a time to think of others first.
Make it Your Own. For younger kids, the moving and differences from one Christmas to the next can be confusing. Add consistency with objects or routines instead of places. Use a special plate every year to set out Christmas cookies for Santa, or create family tradition on Christmas Eve to spend the evening in pajamas watching Christmas movies together. The kids will know that no matter where they’re living, their Christmas traditions will remain the same.
Make It a Habit to Stay Put. Travel during the holidays can be expensive and stressful, and feeling obligated to visit extended family can take the fun out of the season. Instead, make it a point to stay home during the holidays. Army spouse Jennifer Morrison is blending new and old Christmas traditions this year while staying at their duty station.
“We're starting a new tradition this year since it's our first move,” Morrison said. “We'll visit family before the holidays but save the actual day for ourselves. We'll enjoy our Christmas meal on the Christmas china my grandmother passed down to me. It will be a nice reminder of home and former traditions.”
Remember the Food. Did you grow up eating a special meal on Christmas Eve? Does the smell of your grandmother’s sweet potatoes baking in the oven take you back in time? Food can mark the holidays like nothing else can, and special recipes and meals are traditions you can always maintain, no matter where you are stationed.
Navy spouse Heather Goffrier helped carry on a childhood tradition for her husband and turn it into something they look forward to every year as a family. “[He] grew up always having cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Thanksgiving and Christmas morning,” Goffrier said. “That's become something we do, and we can do it from any duty station. The funny thing is, I don't even like cinnamon rolls, but I really enjoy making them and love that it makes him so happy.”
Living the military lifestyle means you won’t get to cut down a Christmas tree from the same tree farm every year, but there can be tradition in the variety. Celebrate every duty station by embracing the holiday culture of your location, and making traditions that focus on your family. Although each year might be a little different, taking the time to enjoy and cherish each other is at the heart of the holiday itself.