By Carole Van Holbeck, MSAN Mental Health and Wellness Advocate
Holidays in military families are not always easy. I have memories of Christmas’ spent in hotels, foreign countries, and away from loved ones. No matter where we spent our Christmas, my parents held on to certain traditions that created continuity for us. My favorite was my father reading the Christmas story to us before retiring for the night. For my children, it was baking cookies for Santa and receiving new pajamas on Christmas Eve.
Traditions are ritualistic behaviors that have special meaning and nurture our souls. Traditions help anchor family members and bring them together. For military families, traditions can go a long way in normalizing the holiday season. Here are some suggestions to create traditions that suit the military lifestyle:
- Create traditions with your family that can go anywhere. It could be as simple as making popcorn and watching a favorite holiday movie together, or creating an ornament to hang on a little tree each year.
- Don’t be afraid to adjust traditions if circumstances dictate. My first Christmas away from family was spent at Yokota Air Base, Japan. I invited a Japanese friend to join us for dinner. She brought her koto (a traditional stringed instrument) and played it for us. It made for a very different yet memorable holiday.
- Carve out some time for yourself and your spouse. There is a frenzy of activity this time of year and it can strain relationships. Consider scheduling a date with your spouse. About 15 years ago, my husband and I started the tradition of a date night on December 23rd. It is a time to step back, reflect on the holiday season, and spend some quiet time with each other. It always renews our spirits.
- Create new traditions! Traditions are fluid. Traditions will ebb and flow. For example, my children are grown and we no longer bake cookies on Christmas Eve. They will be starting their own families soon and creating their own traditions. My husband and I will find new ways to celebrate. Remember – it’s all good! Make the holidays your own and celebrate in ways that call to your heart.
And what if your spouse is deployed? Find ways to stay connected.
Record your family singing holiday songs or decorating the tree. Send him or her a care package/holiday gift and try to arrange a time when you can open presents together via Skype or Google Hangout.
Spending the holidays apart is HARD, but sharing traditions whenever possible can create special memories for everyone.
How does your military family celebrate the holidays?
Carole Van Holbeck is a retired Air Force spouse, veteran (1978-1990), and former military dependent child. She is a mother of three sons, stepmother to three adult children, and grandmother to nine. A registered psychotherapist, she works as the Office Manager of Warrior Counseling & Consulting, a veteran mental health practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado started by her husband Ken in 2011. In this role, Carole engages with active duty military, veterans, and their families and understands current issues affecting this population.