Holidays are stuffed with tradition and a side of gathering with loved ones. At least that’s what most of the world does. However, as less than 1% of the population, military families are yet again redefining what is normal. Meet three families staying put this holiday season.
Their celebrations are full of the same joy, tradition and laughter found in any home around the holidays. Friends become family and customs are exchanged, like gifts, replacing any yule tide blues. If life is what you make it, these families know how to make it wonder filled.
The Oates family, stationed at Stuttgart, Germany, spent the early years of their marriage enjoying tree lighting ceremonies with both families back home in Michigan. One long PCS in the heart of Christmas season 2016, while Alexandria Oates was 12 weeks along with their first child, opened their eyes to the magic of all that European life had to offer.
“We absolutely love celebrating the season in an authentic, European way!” boasts Oates when describing ski trips to Austria and tinkering about the many Christmas markets around their area. The family has visited over 15 countries while stationed abroad, taking full advantage of living real life in the idyllic gingerbread villages propped up in window shops across the United States.
Thousands of miles, and one big blue ocean apart from their families, they found a unique way to recreate memories of American Christmas past.
“I bring a Christmas tree scented candle wherever we are. The scent alone creates the nostalgia we crave.” While allowing dozens of European cultures to permeate its way into their current holiday tradition, another portable trick to embrace their roots has been opening two gifts each Christmas Eve, just as they did back home.
Schofield Barracks, Hawaii
“Everyone brings their own traditions to the table,” says Katelyn Sullivan about the close-knit group she calls family on the island. Home for the Sullivan family is deep in the heart of Tennessee where southern breakfasts, traditional blessing of the meal and dirty Santa games create their nostalgia. Festivities they bring happily with them throughout their military stations.
Life on the island is costly, but friendship is free. “I have a whole new appreciation for my crockpot,” she says, about her ability to prepare large, cost-effective meals. The Sullivans began inviting single soldiers over for southern holiday feasts the first year of their marriage. Opening their doors and hearts keeps their home full of love, as it is in Tennessee. Staff Sgt. Sullivan proudly prays over the gathering, like the leaders before him, bringing a sense of home and tradition to young soldiers missing their own generational customs.
“Open your doors, and you’ll find your heart becomes filled too.” Adjusting to the second of two back-to-back OCONUS assignments has broadened the Sullivan’s perspective on traditions.
“My friends from the Northwest prepared a seafood feast one year. It was so different from what I knew, but every bit of home for them,” Katelyn Sullivan said.
Fort Wainwright, Alaska
“Food is the story of my family; it’s how we all show love,” Tiana Nomann lovingly summarizes the heart of holidays in her family. Home for now is Fort Wainwright, Alaska, which is a chilly transition from the sunny California coastline they call home base. Cooking is a year-round job for this military spouse entrepreneur, too. She’s whipping up a “How to Thanksgiving” guide, her first publication after spending years honing her culinary chops as a cake artisan and seasoned home chef.
“I had over 12 pounds of turkey from cooking for the guide, so I went door to door asking the neighbors to give me feedback while inviting them over for the holidays,” she explained.
Filling her home with love during this year’s deployment is a smart tactic to combat feelings of isolation for all.
“We have young spouses, away from their families for the first time, preparing feasts without generational wisdom at their side. I created the guide and open my own doors to help eliminate some of that pressure,” Nomann said. “We’ve kept nearly the same schedule that happens at my mom’s. We are all doing the same thing together that day.”
The resiliency of military families shines brightest during the holiday season as they adapt and overcome, characteristics that become the norm for a demographic often faced with making the most of a hand dealt their way. And building new traditions in different parts of the world is one of the great benefits of a lifestyle that dictates zip codes. This year, whatever your family chooses to do to mark this time of year, embrace the possibilities around you — it may become your best memory yet in this book of your life.