Sydney’s son carving a pumpkin.

The Importance of Family Traditions

It is important in any family — but especially military families — to create meaningful family traditions that you can bring from place to place. Traditions make some of your children’s best memories growing up, but they are also what make your home feel like a home no matter where you are. As a military family, you may often find that it is difficult to travel home for all the holidays, which as a spouse, means you are in charge of planning and preparing fun activities and establishing these new traditions within your home.

Our family has created most traditions around the holidays, and I thought I’d share some of them with anyone looking for inspiration as this Christmas season approaches! I will share some of our favorite traditions for several different holidays and seasons — but we certainly have the most family fun around Christmas. You will find that a lot of our traditions involve food because creating special and memorable meals is an easy way to get creative and have fun!

Valentine’s Day

  • I help the kids make valentines for our loved ones and we send them out in the mail.
  • Around Valentine’s Day, we will make s’mores in the backyard using heart-shaped marshmallows.
  • I love to deliver donuts and/or flowers to wives and moms we know are alone that year (because their spouse is away for deployments or training).
  • I make heart-shaped sourdough biscuits with strawberry jam every Valentine’s Day morning. You can also get heart-shaped biscuits at Chick-fil-A on February 14 each year!

Saint Patrick’s Day

  • I make cinnamon rolls with green icing for breakfast.
  • I make corned beef brisket in our Dutch oven and brownies for dessert.


  • We wake up the birthday boy or girl with balloons and the Happy Birthday song! I usually buy a giant number balloon with a coordinating number of latex balloons. The little ones especially love this!
  • My husband and I write a letter to each of our children on their birthday eve, talking about the year and what we enjoyed with them and what kind of little person he or she is becoming. We keep the letters stored in a binder at the top of their closets so they can read them when they are older.


  • For breakfast, I will usually make jack-o’-lantern pancakes or pumpkin-shaped cinnamon rolls. For the pumpkin-shaped cinnamon rolls, I just pinch the end of the cinnamon roll into a stem shape at the top of each roll and then dye the icing orange (for the pumpkin) and green (for the stem).
  • We always make a bonfire in our backyard and eat an early crockpot chili dinner on Halloween. It’s a cozy meal for a chilly and spooky night and can be made early in the day so it doesn’t interfere with Halloween plans.
  • After trick-or-treating, we like to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin” (the Charlie Brown movie) on our projector out in the backyard while we eat candy and sometimes popcorn, too. When our kids are older, we may watch something a bit spookier.

 Fall Camping Trip

  • We try to go camping over Columbus Day weekend when possible. We love fall camping because of the weather and the fall foliage coming out! We bring pumpkins to carve, drink apple cider, eat chili and pumpkin bread, go hiking, fish on the lake, and more. It doesn’t always work to go every year, but we go when we can. Camping is a great time and a good way to explore a new area. It takes a lot of planning but is so rewarding if done right.


  • My husband grew up in a military family, and they often skipped traveling to see extended family for Thanksgiving. They would go camping instead! We have carried on that tradition, and it has been so fun. We bring a turkey fryer, and my husband cooks the turkey. I bring simple dishes like canned green beans, cranberry sauce, and Hawaiian rolls, and then make sweet potatoes in the instant pot. I make the pumpkin pie ahead of time, and it ends up being a fun camping feast for the family.

Christmas Eve (and the days leading up to Christmas)

  • I make giant Santa Claus pancakes for breakfast, using whipped cream and berries to make Santa’s face, beard and hat, etc.
  • We make our special family recipe of Christmas cookies for Santa Claus and leave oats and glitter out for the reindeer.
  • We go to the Christmas Eve service at our church.
  • I make stromboli for dinner (carrying on my husband’s family tradition growing up).
  • Other things we like to do in the days leading up to Christmas:
    • Make gingerbread houses (We always get prebuilt houses, and I buy an assortment of fun candies to decorate with).
    • Drive around with hot chocolate and popcorn to look at the lights.
    • Do a Christmas puzzle.
    • Make snowman pancakes (using powdered sugar, bacon scarves, whipped cream snowflakes and chocolate chip buttons).
    • Host a Christmas brunch for neighbors and friends.
    • Read the gingerbread man story and baking gingerbread cookies.
    • Watch and love the “Christmas Cookie Challenge” show on the Food Network channel with my husband.
    • Cut our Christmas tree down at a local Christmas tree farm.

Christmas Day

  • We read the Christmas story in bed first to start Christmas morning with our hearts in the right place.
  • We eat overnight cinnamon rolls with bacon and orange juice.
  • I wrap the contents of the stockings in white tissue paper and red ribbon like my husband’s mother always did. I was used to just dumping out a stocking of things, but my husband liked having to open each individual item — so we have chosen to do that for our children.
  • I make a fancy Christmas dinner, carrying on my family’s tradition: beef tenderloin with homemade horseradish sauce, Harvard pickled beets, au gratin potatoes, a pear and gorgonzola cheese salad, and sometimes homemade fudge or cheesecake.
  • We like to have a fire in our backyard on Christmas night, and sip on eggnog and hot cocoa. It’s a cozy way to end the day!

As you can see, we love to have fun with food, and squeeze as much fun out of the holidays as possible!  I hope your family can use some of our ideas and be inspired to create your own special family traditions. In my experience, some of our favorite traditions are the ones we’ve created ourselves. I know our children will feel at home no matter where we live or whom we see during the holidays, and it is my greatest hope they will look back fondly on their childhood because of our efforts to have fun and make special memories as a family.

Written By Sydney Smith
Army Spouse

Sydney has been an Army wife for four years and has two children. She often writes on the raw experiences military spouses face during challenging times, striving to be a voice of encouragement and validation among the military spouse community.

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