During my first holiday season as a military spouse, we were stationed close enough to family to drive home and visit relatives. I enjoyed the familiar traditions of spending Christmas morning with all my siblings, having a large, loud party of relatives over for dinner, and ringing in the new year with my husband’s family.
But all our subsequent duty stations were much farther away, often in a different time zone. Returning “home” for the holidays became increasingly difficult, especially when we had more children and moved to an overseas duty station. Eventually, my husband and I learned to make our own holiday traditions. We would enjoy being in our own home for the holidays — no matter where in the world we were stationed. Living far from family can be one of the larger frustrations of military life, especially around the holidays. Instead of getting frustrated with the limitations of military assignments, it’s important to focus on the unique opportunities available to military families. Military spouses can explore new holiday traditions with their service member and children and celebrate what they love the most!
Celebrate With Friends
When you live far from family, sometimes you make close friends who become like family. Invite local friends to join you in a potluck “Friends-Giving” around Thanksgiving, or for a cookie exchange in December. Have friends join you for snacks and drinks while you decorate the Christmas tree. Invite the neighborhood kids to the park on New Year’s Eve to “Countdown to Noon” with a fun local celebration.
Even if these aren’t the traditions you grew up with, they are ones you can carry with you to future duty stations.
While it’s common for families everywhere to travel home for the holidays, military families stationed around the world have broader options. If your service member has leave around the holidays, this is a great time for a “staycation” to enjoy local activities near your current duty station. Or take a family trip to somewhere fun, preferably with a military discount.
If you’re overseas, instead of flying around the world to see family, take a shorter trip to a nearby country and soak in the cultural activities. Starting a family tradition of traveling together around the holidays will help you bond in years to come.
Remember Single Service Members
There are always service members on base who can’t spend the holidays with their families. Whether it is too much distance, too expensive, or they don’t have a welcoming home environment, some single service members can’t go home to celebrate.
If you’re comfortable, you can invite someone from your service member’s unit to your home for dinner. It doesn’t have to be fancy or traditional. Many young service members are happy to eat pizza or wings if it gets them out of the barracks for a few hours!
You can also support service members by bringing meals to the ones standing duty around the base, handing out coffee, gift cards to the gate guards, or dropping by the security office to leave a card for your MPs who work throughout the holidays.
The end of the year is a great time to focus on helping others and connecting to the people in your community. Volunteer opportunities are endless! Whether you donate to a food pantry, help at a charity event, spend time serving meals in a soup kitchen, collect socks and blankets for the homeless, or give a gift to needy children, it always feels wonderful to brighten someone else’s day.
Start a new family tradition of volunteering during the holiday season, and you’ll find ways to continue the tradition no matter where the military sends you.
Lean Into Faith Traditions
If you grew up with religious holiday traditions, you could connect with those communities near your duty station and continue those traditions with your family. No matter your religious background, there are faith communities on base or in the local community who are celebrating the same traditions and would welcome your participation. If your faith is important to you, be sure to share it with your spouse and children. You can enjoy those traditions together for years to come!
As a military family, you may not be able to repeat every holiday tradition you remember from your childhood. But with some thoughtful intentions, you can see military life as an opportunity to create your own holiday traditions! Choose from this list, or brainstorm new ones with your family until you have meaningful new holiday traditions for your family to enjoy.