As the age-old lyrics claim, there’s no place like home for the holidays — unless your spouse is deployed. Or plane tickets are expensive. Or leave gets denied. Or training schedules change at the last minute.
Military families are very familiar with adapting to change. Coping with being away from loved ones is difficult, especially around the holidays. But being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely.
A shift in family plans
Maybe traveling to your hometown is too expensive, or you’re living overseas. Maybe your spouse’s work schedule makes things complicated. Give yourself permission to be upset at these circumstances.
But keep moving forward. You can still fill your holidays with memories.
Sometimes alternatives to the picture-perfect holiday you thought you’d have can make wonderful, lasting memories
If your spouse is deployed, rally friends in a similar situation and have a holiday movie marathon. If your service member’s leave doesn’t get approved, host out-of-town relatives instead.
Open presents through video calls. Mail care packages and gifts. Give yourself permission to create new and unexpected traditions
Room for one more in the family
Whether you provide it or need it, there’s always a seat at the table in the military community. If you know of someone without a spouse or their family, open your home or merge your plans. Building a community beyond blood-related family is one of the greatest perks of the military
Many younger service members spend their first holidays away from family. Consider sending them a plate of food or inviting them to an activity. Taking in younger military members is appreciated by not just them, but their families who may not be able to be there.
The USO holds holiday gatherings around bases. Unit family readiness groups have events and opportunities to gather when service members are deployed. Operation Homefront and Operation Help a Hero offer a holiday meal and have “Adopt a Family” programs. Doing something for someone else over the holidays might not just make their holiday more cheerful, but yours, too.
If you are overseas, you have the chance to see how different cultures celebrate. There is never a shortage of ways to be involved. Squadrons or bases often hold several holiday events. Local restaurants cater or sell special meals. Say yes to an invite, to an opportunity to volunteer or try something new.
When plans fall through, you can (and will) adapt. Staying put instead of going somewhere for the holidays gives you the chance to embrace where you are.
It nudges you to go out of your way to celebrate in ways you may not have before. Toys for Tots, baking cookies for service members in the dorms and Holidays for Heroes programs are all wonderful opportunities to give back. Sometimes the best or unexpected traditions form out of the most disappointing circumstances.
There is always a way to turn the unpredictability of military life into something special. You never know, spreading holiday cheer in unexpected ways could make it the most memorable one yet.