Happy Holidays, Military-Style


When I was growing up, my family’s holiday traditions rarely varied.  Sure, every now and then my mom would mix up the Thanksgiving menu by making a seven-layered salad instead of a green bean casserole or my grandparents would visit for Christmas.  But typically our holiday rituals remained unchanged.  It wasn’t Thanksgiving without a turkey.  It wasn’t Christmas Eve without hors d’oeuvres and stocking stuffers.  And it wasn’t Christmas Day without a plate of cookies and wrapping paper that was color coded for each family member, both of which were gone before the sun had a chance to rise.

But holidays are different when you’re married to the military.  As hard as we may try to maintain traditions, the military tends to test our resolve by deploying our husbands and moving us to remote locations.  We celebrate holidays where and when we can, sometimes ignoring the calendar so we can collect the special days and celebrate them all when our family is intact.  Yes, we military families have to make do, convincing our kids that Santa can find us wherever we are and convincing ourselves that one day we’ll look back on this and laugh.

I’ve definitely had some interesting military holidays.  I spent my first military Christmas in a hotel in a strange new city where Christmas dinner consisted of beer and nachos at a local bar.  I spent my third military Christmas repeatedly telling myself that it’s not a big deal that my husband was missing our 9-month-old son’s first Christmas because the baby wouldn’t remember that his daddy was in Iraq.  And I spent my fourth military Christmas in Japan, this time with my husband, but without anything else that felt familiar.

That first Christmas in the hotel made me resent military life.  The third Christmas without my husband made me feel powerless.  But that fourth Christmas overseas introduced me to an aspect of military life I had never experienced before: the military family.  And although the specific members may come and go, that military family has become just as important to me as my real family.

I expected my first holiday in a foreign country to feel, well, foreign.  Most of our Christmas decorations were in storage back in the States, and our family was an ocean away.  It was just me, my husband, our 22-month-old son, and our dog.  Or so I thought.

There were so many holiday events throughout the month of December in that small Japanese town that by the time Christmas came, I was all Christmas-ed out!  We watched Santa drive into our favorite park in a fire truck.  We gazed at Christmas lights downtown and learned how the Japanese celebrate the holidays.  We attended multiple Christmas parties for kids and adults.  We even got our dog involved when the base offered Santa pictures with pets.  It was the most festive holiday season I had ever experienced.  And I had my military family to thank for that.

We were all in the same boat.  We were all missing our families in the States, many of us missing our husbands as well.  We had no other choice but to join together and make the best of it.  And boy did we ever make the best of it!  That Christmas in a foreign country was the farthest thing from foreign.  I felt like I was home.  I felt like I was surrounded by family.

Throughout the three years we lived overseas, I learned to embrace my military family and adopt as many family members as possible, especially during the holidays.  In fact, the last Thanksgiving we spent in Japan was probably my most memorable military holiday.  I bought the biggest turkey the commissary had.  My husband and I invited acquaintances who had nowhere else to go or whose spouses were deployed.  I cooked for four days, preparing a feast for a gathering that included both close friends and people I had never met before.  Some have remained friends, some I’ll never hear from again.  But that day, as two dozen or so people came in and out of our house at varying intervals, we welcomed them as family.  From the geo bachelor missing his wife’s Thanksgiving spread to the Korean wife who had never had a Thanksgiving spread, we welcomed them all.  Our military family.

Since leaving Japan, our holidays have been surprisingly unaffected by military life.  And while I appreciate the luxuries of living stateside, having my husband home, and establishing our own traditions, I sometimes miss those holidays made so memorable by military life.  But I’m sure that one day the military will test our holiday resolve again, and when it does, I’ll be ready.  I just need to remember the recipe for the perfect military holiday: A main course of adventure, served with a side of adaptability, a bottle of vintage flexibility, and a hefty helping of humor for dessert, all prepared with a dash of love.  And a little help from my military family.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

(Be sure to check out the Riding the Roller Coaster blog to read more great posts like this one. And you can find me today over on Witty Little Secret, a hilarious milspouse blog that I’m sure you’ll want to bookmark –  Rebekah)

13 thoughts on “Happy Holidays, Military-Style

  1. I agree whole heartedly that being overseas during the holidays is an amazing experience! Seeing Germany’s culture and traditions will be among my favorite military memories for years to come I’m sure!

    I think too, being so far away, we have learned the true meaning of “Military Family”. Just like any family, we have our challenges and may not always agree, but we are united through our shared experiences – and we are all in this together!

  2. RC, what a great memory! I have to agree that the military family is a very special and unique thing. Though military life puts a lot of strains on us on this crazy adventure, they also bring so many blessing, amazing friends, and memorable experiences!

  3. RC, I love your tales of the OCONUS life. Your local “military family” should feel lucky to have such a warm and generous person as yourself no matter where you are. Happy holidays!

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