8 Holiday Traditions Military Families Can Start During Deployment

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This time of year, I usually get quite a few emails from military spouses and significant others asking one simple question: How do you go on with the holiday season when you’re dealing with deployment?

For some readers, it feels like a betrayal to have fun or enjoy themselves during deployment. It can be painful to do the same kinds of traditions that you’ve always done with your significant other around. Their absence is obvious and you crave the memories you could have made with them this year. Maybe you’re feeling angry (and that’s okay) or sad (also okay) or completely numb (totally normal!).

No matter where you are, I’d encourage you to choose one special tradition you want to start this holiday season as you deal with deployment. There’s something lovely about creating something new and creating memories. It doesn’t have to be a big thing– it can be small and special. And (of course) it doesn’t have to be on this list either. (I’ve just got some ideas to get you started!)

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1. Track Santa

If your family believes in Santa, use the NORAD Santa tracker (which goes live on December 1 and begins tracking Santa December 24) watch where Santa’s bringing toys next on Christmas Eve. Set a timer on your phone and have the kids check the website every hour… or time your alarms for the times when Santa will be visiting friends, family, and your spouse at different points throughout the day. If your family has PCSed to different places, you can add those places to your list of points of interest, too.

2. Volunteer

Military life can often have us looking inward rather than outward. It can be easy to dismiss others’ hardships in light of our own, especially when they have to do with deployment and missing a person integral to our lives. Choose a day during the holiday season to choose and execute a service project or volunteer opportunity in your community. Bonus points if you participate on the holiday itself as many organizations find it difficult to field volunteers during the holiday season.

3. Make an ornament

Dust off your paintbrushes and glue sticks. Spend time creating a Christmas tree ornament that will remind you every year of this season of your life. If you have kids, invite them to help create the ornament and see the world through their eyes.

4. Add a joyful jar

Many families have deployment candy jars where, each day of deployment each child gets a (Hershey) kiss from Mom or Dad. It’s a great way to count up and keep the deployed parent present in the family, even when they are not physically there. During the holiday season, add a jar to your daily count-up, but instead of candy, encourage your kids to draw or write something that makes them happy on a slip of paper and insert it into the jar. On Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, read them together as a reminder that there are many things to be grateful for, even during deployment.

5. Create a video

If you have children who are old enough to record and edit a video, encourage them to create a holiday yearbook video. Capture all of the fun of the holidays and edit it into a video that you can then upload privately to Facebook or YouTube (make sure you know how the permissions work so you can keep it as private and restricted as you’d like). Send the link to friends, family, and your deployed spouse.

6. Get off the beaten path

If your family does the holidays traditionally, think about how you can flip them on their heads. Always go home for the holidays? Invite your family to visit you this time. Celebrate with a big, homecooked dinner? Research a restaurant with great reviews, reserve a table, and give yourself the day off. Maybe this year is the year for booking into a bed and breakfast (or a kid-friendly inn if you have children). If you live in a warm climate, take a drive to the mountains for snow. Do something completely out of character and make memories that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

7. Go for a run

The holidays are often times that deployed military members coordinate 5Ks and half-marathons. If your service member is participating, find out the date and time… and then go on the same run (or walk). Add a Santa hat or flashing Christmas light necklace and take a photo.

8. Send a card

Right around this time every year, a Christmas card from a military family experiencing deployment goes viral. Usually these cards feature the family at home holding a sign that says “Merry” and a picture of the deployed service member holding a sign bearing “Christmas.” (You’ve probably seen these before!) Consider creating one yourself and then saving a copy of one of the cards for posterity.

Need more holiday inspiration? Try these:

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