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.
Well, here we go, having to plan another Holiday without my son being here to join in. I know that I am not the only one who is going/gone through this but you see, he is my oldest and well, this time of year brings a lot of memories flooding back. When he was born there were a lot of complications and he was in intensive care for 10 days. After that, there were years of hearing tests, eye sight tests, and he grew up just fine with no problems besides the occasional cold and other childhood dilemmas that we all go through. But I think back to the times when we were so relieved that he was okay. All of the prayers we prayed, and all of the times we were up all night worrying about him. And now that he’s not going to be here for me to hug and see in person, well, I’m sending out the prayers every morning and every night and worry just like I did in the beginning.
I remember – back in 2003-4 when my son was in the Sand. Way back then (it’s a lifetime ago!) the mail to Iraq was taking 4 – 6 weeks to arrive, even sent Priority. So.. In November, right after his birthday, I started shopping. I didn’t get much for him, just the underwear I was sure he needed (underwear in your stocking is a tradition too… don’t ask…) , and socks, and candy. I baked cookies – his great grandmother’s Butterblatzen, my shortbread, macaroons – before Thanksgiving. We have schedules in my family – all Christmas baking is done in December.. my mother is German and schedules are her lifeblood! Christmas is HUGE – big trees with tons of white little lights, ornaments that we inherited, or he made in school or scouts.. opening presents on Christmas Eve, and the stockings on Christmas Day.
Then I remembered.
Before he enlisted, his dad and I, with his help and many others, built our own house, a dome house and it took a long time, with all of us working regular jobs and doing it at night and weekends. The first Christmas on the property – we were in a terrible trailer and had no room for anything at all, much less a big tree. So we found a tiny table top fake tree, little ornaments and popped popcorn to swag it in (and feed the mice that were having a field day in there too!). And we laughed, and celebrated and joy filled that trailer. The second Christmas, we were living in the house, with just a few rooms done – and we found that little tree, put it under the rolling scaffolding in the main room and decorated it. The lights – well that year, they draped the scaffolding! And it was a great Christmas!
and I remembered.
The next few – he was either living on his own, but came to our house for Christmas, with the latest girlfriend – or the wonderful one when they got leave from Basic and he came, all skinny and polite and NEAT – The tree that year was huge, a Fraser Fir that smelled like the holiday, the banisters were draped in lights, the house smelled of goose and pie and there was such joy in the house.
The year he was deployed, his dad was deployed, and I couldn’t face Christmas at all. But I wanted him to have it – out in the cold damp desert. So I found the little tree, and the little ornaments and even some “lights” that looked real, but didn’t need to be plugged in. I decorated it, and packed it oh so carefully. and mailed it in November. He told me later that he loved it, the platoon he was with was camping in one of Saddams family palaces, and they set up that little tree and everyone opened packages from home. My husband was in Bosnia, they had a great tree on their base, and food and packages from home. I couldn’t do it, just couldn’t. I had great friends who invited me for the day, which was sweet. And all of us tried to remember those other Christmases, the ones we were together, when the kid was little and woke us up at 5 to open the presents from Santa, when he was older and we sat in our PJs all day and watched goofy movies while the house smelled of goose with stuffing and mincemeat pies…
This year – the husband is packing for deployment, I’m baking for other troops who aren’t home, and my son, daughter in law and our beautiful, smart, sassy and perfect granddaughter are out West where they live. And I’ll remember that little boy with the footy jamies, racing to see what’s in the package – sitting with the new toy in the living room and grinning over the chocolate Santa for breakfast. and I’ll remember..