Christmas lights on a table with a framed picture of a couple.

Navigating Irregular Holidays

Holidays can be difficult to navigate for military families. Some are fragmented by deployments, while others simply have jobs that require working through special days. My spouse has had assignments that put us into, at the very least, the latter category for most holidays. However, deployments have complicated our Yuletide cheer plenty of times, too.

We spent most major holidays apart for the first several years, apart from each other and far away from familiar communities. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and beyond were spent texting or talking over video chat if we were lucky. Some were spent without any chats at all due to duty-related communication inhibitors. We had to learn to be creative quickly so that we too could join in on the traditional holiday fun.

Even if your holidays don’t look the same as your civilian peers, you can still keep from becoming a Scrooge, I promise! Here are four tips that have helped us navigate irregular holidays:

  1. Make your own calendar. Okay, so the calendar says that a holiday falls on a certain day, but you can cheat a little. If your service member works on a holiday, schedule YOUR holiday for a day that works better for you. When my spouse is working or deployed, we postpone the real celebration for when he returns; we call it OUR holiday. If you miss a lot of holidays in a row, you can just have an “everything day” — that’s what we call a day set aside to celebrate all that you missed. What’s more special than a holiday that belongs to just your little family? Use your time apart to plan the best holiday celebration EVER! Plus, that Christmas cookie will taste just as sweet if you make it late.
  2. Make the most of what you have. Technology has afforded some military families the option to video chat with their service members. When my spouse was overseas one Christmas, we used video chat to spend time together. We watched Christmas movies all day, ate snacks and talked. Of course, this option isn’t as good as in-person, but it’s still a nice way to enjoy the day “with” the one you love. If you can’t video chat, or talk on the phone, you can still have some fun. For example, if deployment restricts your communication to email — send a holiday quiz to your service member to take later. There are some silly and fun options that can help to lighten the mood on a tough day. Plus, later you can laugh together at the amusing results like what reindeer you are or what Thanksgiving dish matches your personality.
  3. Gift “together.” There’s something extra special about receiving a gift from your loved one when you’re missing them. However, gifting takes a little planning if your spouse is deployed far away. Think ahead and order items to be delivered to your spouse or put a box of goodies together yourself. My spouse and I frequently took advantage of websites with free shipping to exchange gifts while he was overseas. Such solutions deem it affordable and easy to send stuff ahead of time without having to assemble a whole box yourself. If you can, set up a time to open your presents over the phone or on video chat together. If you can’t chat together in real-time, take a video and share it with your spouse.
  4. Skip it. During my spouse’s extended special duty assignment overseas, we missed almost two years of every major holiday: Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s and MORE! After a while, I did what some may call outlandish; I skipped a few holidays. I say it’s okay to SKIP holidays if they make you feel down in the dumps. Treat the day as a regular day and do something that you love to help take your mind off of things. I invested in new hobbies and planned future special postponed holidays with my spouse. If you can spend the day with people that you love, so be it! If it’s easier for you to treat your holiday like any other day, go for it! There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to navigate the tough realities of irregular holidays due to military life.

The bottom line? It’s hard to spend special days apart from your service member. However, for countless military families, there’s simply no way around it. If you can, make your own calendar, make the most of what you’ve got, gift “together” and if all else fails — skip it! No matter what you do, be patient with yourself and your service member — brighter days are just ahead.

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