You know this is going to be a good blog because it starts with a disclaimer: it’s written for those of us, like myself, who are summer 2020 movers. If you’re a winter 2019 mover (as in you’re moving just after the holidays), I encourage you to read the following as if it were written in boldface and all caps because you have the rest of us beat. Hopefully you can laugh through the chaos (even if it’s a slightly crazed laugh) and hopefully you find it relatable.
Another First Holiday
Now, let’s recall our first holiday where we are. What did you do — nothing because you didn’t know any people or places yet or everything because it all looked so festive?
Chances are, that first year had us tearing into newly organized boxes of holiday decorations, wondering where the heck the ornaments and Christmas lights were. (Wait — did we bring the lights or trash them?) There’s the dilemma of, “Where should we put the tree?” And, don’t forget, “Where am I going to hide the kids’ presents in this house?” If you were used to a temperate holiday, but the first year at a northern duty station had you feeling like you were living in a snow globe, you might have gone all out with cookies galore and chestnuts on an open fire. (Spoiler alert, they taste like bland potatoes.) If you grew up with a white Christmas, but it was 72 and sunny that first December at your duty station, you might have protested the songs and traditions altogether.
Look How Far We’ve Come
When that last holiday at a duty station rolls around, you’re in a completely different mindset. Your ghost of Christmas present is throwing some serious side eye at your ghost of Christmas two years ago.
So, as you look around your holiday landscape on yet another last holiday at yet another address, let’s review the 12 signs this is your last holiday at a duty station.
- We can now decorate in our sleep (and it’s a good thing because if PCS stress has us tossing and turning all night, we’ll be drowsily decking the halls). By now, we know exactly where those ornaments are, and every decoration has its place (including that box in the far corner of the closet that we know well we don’t have room for, but one day we will). We let our guard down this year because there is zero chance of disappointedly unpacking broken keepsakes.
- Putting away the last holiday will be the first taste of PCS packing. My grandma used to save wrapping paper, and I thought it was just another Depression-era habit hanging on, but the first time I had to pack each and every fragile, sentimental ornament ahead of a move because I assumed my belongings would be treated with the care of a punted football, I realized she was on to something. All that crumpled wrapping and tissue paper can be used to cushion ornaments and keepsakes. Toss it into the ornament tub and it’ll be ready for you when the day (or two or three because you must REALLY pack the ornaments this year) comes to put the holidays away. Sure, the packers could do this for us, but I’ve learned the hard way that when you don’t seal the holidays in the holiday tubs, you’ll be pulling out the inflatable Santa with your pots and pans.
- Santa is a realist. I’ve been semi-listening to my kids rattle off additions to their wish lists since August, and I’ve been humoring them, but when I hear items that I know for a fact have two trillion pieces or wouldn’t even be worth moving because they’ll lose interest in it in a week, I gently remind my kids that Santa can’t deliver everything on everyone’s lists.
- Santa is on a budget because moving is expensive. Expenses add up during a move, and you may be budgeting for big purchases, like down payments on cars and houses. It really sets that whole “quality over quantity” concept into motion when gift shopping that last holiday.
- We dish out more Santa threats than holiday cookies, and we’re only slightly exaggerating. Our last, last Christmas, I may have said, “You need to get rid of the toys you don’t play with anymore if you want Santa to bring you anything new.” And, I’ve been tossing out, “Keep that room clean or Santa is skipping our house” since the first leaf fell this fall.
- We beg everyone not to get gifts for our family this year. This is going to be painful for the grandparents, but when we say, “Please don’t send gifts” the last holiday before a PCS, we aren’t trying to be nice, we mean it. Really.
- The only gift we really want is orders. “Santa baby, slip [our orders] under the tree.” Call us dreamers, but we just want to know where we’re going to be living in six months. Not knowing makes the tone of that last holiday equal parts YOLO (might as well have a fourth sprinkle cookie — they may not have sprinkles, or cookies, where we’re going) and low-key panicked.
- My fellow OCONUS military families have their shopping done by Nov. 1. We learned our lesson that first holiday season and know by now that shipping takes time and military post office lines the last three months of the year are the stuff of nightmares. But holiday preparedness doesn’t just apply to gifts. Unpredictable OCONUS commissary inventory taught me early to buy up the holiday baking necessities and dinner staples early. We can always freeze them but can’t make them appear on the shelves at Dec. 23 no matter how hard we try.
- Holiday potluck signup looks a lot like the plot of a cooking show with a twist. What can I bring that uses up that bag of flour and the three jars of marinara I bought when I thought we were out? I’m also working with an assortment of hot sauces we’ll never get through on our own, a couple boxes of corn starch and food coloring (because they’re always in the back and I think I’m out), oyster sauce, and a collection of napkins left over from every other major holiday for the last two-and-a-half years.
- We search for DIY gift ideas for friends and neighbors that will use up the stash of supplies in the shed, the kids’ craft supplies, and — if we’re good — the above-named kitchen overstocks.
- Last-holiday takedown turns into second Christmas on your porch. January classifieds posts along the lines of, “FREE PORCH PICKUP! FCFS. NO HOLDS” followed by pictures of our “like-new” fake tree, “gently used” outdoor lights, our kids’ toys that are now rejects thanks to new toys, and anything else that crossed our paths during the cleanout are signs that we’re moving soon and the PCS cleanout has commenced.
- We learn exactly what kind of last-holiday person we are. If we only had one more holiday in a place (for now anyway, because we know that the military has a sense of humor), how would we spend it? I’m some combination of “OMGoodness, we’ll never be here, doing this ever again, let’s go out big!” “Dear Santa, please let me get through the last holiday season here with as little ‘peopling’ as possible,” and “This is our last chance to squeeze in that last big trip; let’s go non-traditional holiday. Santa can find us on an island in the Pacific somewhere?” What kind of last-holiday person are you?
The places may change, but the last holiday before a PCS is constant. So, my holiday wish for you: May your shopping lists be short, your porch pickups go swiftly, and while you may not get the only thing on your list (ahem…orders), may you get those by Valentine’s Day at the latest. Because nothing says “I love you” to a military spouse like a heart-shaped box of an actual plan.