In a Holiday Funk?

Non-traditional Ways for Military Families to Celebrate the Holidays

By Jen McDonald
photo credit: bizoo_n/Dollar Photo Club
As I write this well before Thanksgiving, Christmas jingles are already playing on commercials, the town center nearby has its holiday decorations up, and I’m sure someone (not me!) already has their holiday cards addressed and stamped.
Feeling the holiday spirit yet?
If so, great!
But for some military families, the upcoming holiday season doesn’t bring thoughts of joy this year. In fact, it may just a time to get through, for various reasons—distance from extended family, living in another country, or an ongoing deployment. 
If you’re in that place this year or perhaps just not feeling particularly festive, consider some alternative ways of celebrating Christmas and you might just bring back a little bit of that holiday spirit. 
Skip the gifts entirely. What? (I heard that collective gasp.) Perhaps this is the year to think outside the box, literally, and decide on one collective family gift, purchase tickets to an event you wouldn’t normally go to, or take a fun family trip. As Dawn Smith notes, "Who is already dreading the family push and pull of who goes where, when, and for how long during the holidays? So many of us in the military feel the obligation to make long treks to visit loved ones over very short and hectic days off." In her post, Skip Grandma’s House This Holiday Season and Travel!, Dawn gives us some viable alternatives for travel, as well as links to travel resources.
Volunteer or give. Maybe you don’t need or want any gifts this year. Consider volunteering your time as a gift to others. Through support of organizations like Wreaths Across America which places wreaths on veterans’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery and other locations across the U.S., military oriented organizations such as the USO, or a local organization, you can give back and feel like you’re making a true difference in other people’s lives. Not sure where to begin? Take a look at MilitaryByOwner’s extensive Practical Tips for Choosing a Charity to help decide where to best allocate your resources.
Overseas? Go local! If you’re stationed overseas, embrace the different-to-you celebrations in your area and experience the holidays in a whole new way. Whether it’s at the beach on an island or strolling through a Christkindlmarkt in Europe (which I highly recommend, by the way!), making new memories might help get you out of your holiday funk.
Limit presents and focus on quality time. This may be the year to accumulate memories rather than piles of more stuff. Some ideas:
  • Combat the dark winter days by watching a sunrise together.
  • Surprise your kids with an ultra movie marathon of their favorite holiday movies.
  • If you’re recently moved, host a cookie exchange with your new neighbors.
  • Load up the kids, dog, and hot cocoa in the car on Christmas Eve and take a drive to look at lights, as this will likely be the day they’re at their brightest!
Focus outward. Host singles or those who’d otherwise be alone. If you’re off base, remember your elderly neighbors. Take goodies to the 24-hour workers like the military installation’s security forces, gate guards, firefighters, and others.
Create new memories. If you’re currently going through a deployment or long separation from your spouse, it’s important to keep some of your regular traditions for everyone’s sake. But maybe it’s time to add a new twist? Decide to spend the day in pajamas or eat out instead of cooking a large meal yourself. Then reward yourself with a long winter’s nap!
While you may be feeling more Grinch-like than festive, thinking creatively may help make the holidays less of a time to slog through so you can get past them and instead become a surprising time of making great new memories.