The homecoming of your soldier is one of the most anticipated events you can imagine. It is more exciting than waiting for Christmas morning as a child. It can also be filled with a little apprehension as you wonder what it will be like to see him again, have him with you in the home, sharing and experiencing life together as a family again. Help start your new chapter together with a special homecoming.
Planning the Homecoming
Homecoming after a long deployment means that there will likely be other people in your soldier’s life who want to be there for his return. Depending upon the size of your family, their proximity to where you will be for the homecoming, and the personal requests of your soldier, your celebration can take on many different looks. Start by asking yourself a few basic questions about the best way for you and your soldier to celebrate his return.
- Does your soldier have family and friends who have requested to attend the homecoming?
- Will the homecoming be too emotional for your children if there are dozens of family and friends wanting to share the time?
- Has your soldier indicated any preferences for his homecoming?
Once you get a sense of everyone’s plans, needs, and expectations, you can consider the following possible scenarios.
Celebrate the homecoming with just you and your children on the immediate day, giving your soldier time to adjust and your children a day or two to have their special time. Then you can host a reunion of sorts, inviting family and friends to a celebration.
Bring as many people to the homecoming as you can find! Sometimes soldiers and their families truly need this immediate togetherness. You can spend a short together at the immediate location, then move to your home or another venue, depending on size.
Surprise your soldier with a fan bus. Arrange to have a bus (or two!) waiting, filled with family and friends. You can all drive together to your celebration, and then have your private homecoming moments the following day.
How to Have an Amazing Homecoming
Whether your family needs or wants a huge party the moment your soldier returns or you prefer to slowly build up to that event, there are several great ways to create a magical and amazing homecoming for your soldier.
Have at least two people appointed as photographers, one for still shots, and the other for videography. These are moments you will cherish and want to be able to see later, as the moment will seem very surreal.
If you’re serving food, consider an “All American” menu of hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob. Add in boxes of Cracker Jacks – you can even use these for centerpieces and party favors for the kids, and some apple pie and colored Jell-O for dessert (red, white, and blue, of course!). If your soldier has some favorite foods, you could always put in requests to family and friends to bring their best recipes. Maybe Aunt Jane makes his favorite cookies, while his mom makes his favorite lasagna. Getting others involved will lessen your workload, help others to feel a special part of the celebration, and serve your soldier his favorite dishes.
Get your community involved. Many neighborhoods or entire towns are more than willing to pull together and join in the celebration. They can line the road and hold flags, tie patriotic ribbons on their mail boxes, or perhaps even gather the local school choir to sing some favorite songs. Local businesses also might be willing to help with the costs of food, transportation, or decorations.
Make matching shirts for you and your family to wear to the homecoming. You can purchase iron transfer sheets at local craft stores and print your family name on them, then apply them to the shirts. Get creative and add a family crest or family pictures. Make sure to make an extra shirt for your soldier!
Maybe you just want to get back that familiar feeling and celebrate at home. Even if it is April, put up a Christmas tree, hang the stockings, and serve some gingerbread cookies. The best present of all will be the return of your soldier.
Photo credit: Jack
Holidays and birthdays are those special times when we try to gather with loved ones to celebrate and create memories. When those who are important to us are deployed abroad, keeping traditions and celebrating without them can be a sad reminder of the distance separating you from them. When there are young children involved, finding ways to recognize special days can become even more challenging.
Soldiers have some of the only jobs that continue right through the holidays, and sometimes days abroad are barely recognizable as holidays compared to typical celebrations at home. However, for loved ones at home holidays can be markers of time that are bittersweet. Children sometimes feel guilty about celebrating without their parents or older siblings, and may not want to acknowledge the holiday until the soldier comes home. Find ways to keep celebrating, even if you need to modify the typical plans.
Celebrating Christmas During Deployment
Christmas is celebrated all around the world, and the distance might never seem so great between you and your soldier than at this time of year. Use one or all of the following tips for creating memories, keeping traditions, and making new ones this holiday season with your children and your soldier.
Christmas – The Sequel
Make holidays Part I and Part II celebrations, and reinforce to kids that this is the best of both worlds! Part I of the holiday can be celebrated on the original date, such as Christmas. There are just certain things that mark these passages of time, such as attending a church service, singing carols with the neighbors, and decorating a tree. Hold a Part II celebration when your soldier returns, and account for some of the traditions that can be done “out of season”. This might be snuggling together to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, making a gingerbread house, or exchanging Secret Santa gifts. Your soldier will love the homecoming celebration, and your child will be able to continue celebrating and create memories.
Trimming the Tree
A Christmas tree can be a symbol of life, and decorating one is often a family tradition. One way to make trimming the tree special for families separated by deployment is to ask your soldier to send back little trinkets from the base or the area in which they are serving. These can be as simple as buttons, postcards, or even pictures. Help your kids to use these items to make Christmas ornaments to hang on your tree at home.
In return, send your soldier a paper handprint tree that the kids make together. To do this, start with the smallest hands first (if you have more than one child), and trace 2 or 3 handprints on green construction paper. Do this for everyone in the family. Cut out the handprints. Arrange the cutouts with the fingers pointing downward, overlapping each other like this one, and glue the pieces to form a tree. Let the kids decorate the handprint tree with markers, glitter, stickers, and more, then wrap up this great Christmas tree and send it to your soldier.