Who loves to be home for the holidays? I do! For me, returning to childhood stomping grounds and all the familiar sights brings back so many memories. Life is a bit slower back home and to have that break from the busy work-school-sports commitments brings some relief. But, you know as well as I do, as a military family living far from home (across the country, like we have over the years), traveling back to where we came from isn’t always an option.
After almost 15 years of marriage and eight military moves under our belt, we’ve had to make some adjustments with the holidays. Sure, our extended family comes to see us when they can, but with the bulk of our loved ones concentrated in the Midwest, we couldn’t always expect them to break from everyone else to see us. And, to be honest, there are some downfalls to us going toward them, like trying to fit everyone in.
Have you ever noticed returning home, especially when you’ve been away for a while, you have to do what seems like a parade of stops? The ‘vacation’ seems like an invisible itinerary to get to everyone on your list. Feelings get hurt if you don’t have enough time to squeeze in everybody and it becomes challenging to spread out the time. But, we do it and have wonderful memories from it.
When the holidays come to an end and the return trip home approaches, the amount of work to be done once we get back to our own house is endless. I often feel like I need another vacation after the vacation. It has, quite frankly, become too much for us.
A re-invention of our holidays
For us, making the yearly family trek by car or plane across the country just wasn’t feasible anymore. We needed other solutions. As a military wife, I am there for my husband and our family. I’ve accepted moves, job changes, and all of the emotions tied with change. However, for me personally, I’ve missed being around my large family during those special times of year—including all of the anticipation, food, preparation, and traditions that go along with it. I missed it, but there came a moment when we realized we just couldn’t do it anymore so we improvised. My husband and I created new traditions for our family, closer to where we currently live.
It was several years ago when we finally had to break from family traditions. We downsized for Thanksgiving and spent it with only one side of our family. We had the food catered, which was unheard of and a bit unsettling to my mother at first, but it worked out. The reason behind this was to free up time spent cooking and cleaning for the big meals and to maximize our time together as a family. It definitely made it easier in allowing us to talk, catch up, and even get in some fun family games. It was a huge step for us as no one had ever broken tradition!!
Celebrating with our military family
The following year for Thanksgiving, we were hundreds of miles from any family and living on the east coast. We decided on a “Friendsgiving” as we happened to have a lot of other military friends and families stationed not too far from us. The military guys coordinated the day with one another and we were able to gather a large group for a beautiful meal in Virginia. We couldn’t have our own families with us, so we were one another’s family together.
Since then, we have continued the new tradition with other unique approaches to the holidays. I’ve realized as a military wife, these experiences—or adventures—have helped me to look forward to and feel excited about the holidays, despite missing our families. We’ve shifted gears to focus on our own household. The kids seem to enjoy it as well as we always choose somewhere new to go. Two years ago, we went to New York City over Christmas break, scheduled a special stay in a hotel with a pool, music performance, and took in the sites of the city.
As a military family, we’ve had to find creative solutions to the holidays. We’ve had to start new traditions and set expectations for ourselves as a family and deal with the distance between us and our loved ones. By staying closer to home, creating mini-vacations, exploring historic sites and local activities, our holiday time has been exciting. We’ve also shared holidays with other military friends and families as our second family.
We believe it will always be special to return home and have family time together, but sometimes it’s just not a viable option. And we know many other military families are in the same boat. Let go of the guilt and demands you place on yourself for how you spend that leave time. What matters most is being together because as we know time is the most precious gift, and we are often fighting the military for it.