Unless you grew up in a military family, it’s very possible you’ve lived in the same geographic region and celebrated the winter holidays with long-held traditions year after year. Maybe you looked forward to cutting down the family Christmas tree or having snowball fights with siblings and neighbors. Then somewhere down the line, you became a military spouse and all that changed. Now, it’s a little harder to cling to holiday traditions. You have to compromise and get creative.
But you’re a military spouse, so — you know — you’ve got this. You’ve made friends at your duty station and life seems to be humming along. Things are going so well, in fact, you decide not to go “home” for the holidays. Then, somewhere between the Turkey Trot 5k on Thanksgiving morning and mid-December when you realize you are Christmas shopping in your flip-flops, you notice something’s just…off.
Your familiar holiday rhythm has been disturbed by the weather and geographic location of your current duty station. Can this still be the most wonderful time of the year?
Instead of forcing a winter wonderland by dragging the kids to nearby Legoland’s “Snow Land” where machines spray out the white stuff next to LED light-adorned palm trees in 70-degree weather (just, no), how about making new traditions based on wherever you might find yourself today. And, in the military, that could be anywhere. We’re talking everything from temporary housing in Newport, Rhode Island to urban Washington, D.C. to oceanfront living in San Diego. And, if you’re overseas, you better be collecting holiday traditions from your once-in-a-lifetime stay in a foreign country!
Ask the Locals
The military installation may not be your best source here. Strike up a conversation with your favorite restaurant workers, postman, or neighbors. What are some traditions unique to your area? Is there a crab feed or boat parade in December? You’ll never know if you don’t ask. When you find it, put it on the calendar and do it! Spending time with your family at a local show or event will create long-lasting memories and help everyone remember that duty station.
It may seem awfully quiet around your house if you are used to celebrating with extended family. Staying at your duty station for the holidays can become lonely without the background noise of grandparents and cousins. Invite friends who are also without extended family to join you for a special meal or event.
Gifting your children with a special keepsake to remember each duty station is an excellent way to help them remember the holiday traditions you made at each location — without taking up much storage space. Santa riding on a dolphin — sure! A nutcracker handcrafted in Germany — perfect.
Nothing makes the holidays feel like the holidays quite like food. So much tradition is tied to what we eat, and this may be the hardest part to deviate from. If you just can’t give up your traditional Christmas dinner, fine, but maybe try some new recipes unique to your geographic location. Haupia in Hawaii, seafood dinner in Italy — who knows, you just might find yourself Googling these foreign recipes in a fit of nostalgia when you’re back home in Texas and military life is in the rearview mirror.
Freeing yourself from the expectation that your children’s holiday traditions and memories must look exactly like your own is the best gift you can give yourself. Just let it go, sister. Hit the beach. Bust out the surfboards. Eat all the KFC (giving you the side eye, Japan).
Your kids will end up with the most beautiful collection of worldwide holiday traditions, and if the movers are careful, a fully intact keepsake ornament to commemorate each location.
Free yourself. Go celebrate. Mele Kalikimaka!