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How Do You Start Holiday Traditions When You're a Military Family?

written by Kathleen Harris Causey
on December 16, 2010

I entered this year's holiday season with a fervor of uncharted proportions. I expect that this is common with first "married" holidays, as the case is with me and my husband. It will be a primer in balancing time with each of our families and time alone together. Part of me, however, can't help but think I shouldn't worry too much about getting everything just right and setting time-honored traditions because next year will certainly be different; there's a good chance my husband won't be home for our second Christmas. Our third one could be in an entirely different home than we are now. I don't want to be a total Debbie Downer, but it can be pretty depressing to realize that the words tradition and military family don't really belong on the same page together, much less the same sentence!

So, how should I manage? Personally, I think I should embrace our situation. Every year can be a new adventure! Next year, if I am in fact husband-less, I could spend Thanksgiving in New York with friends. For Christmas, I could help play Santa and spend the holiday with a close friend who has three children, whom I adore very much. I could take a weekend Valentine's Day trip with a fellow Army wife. The possibilities are, in fact, endless! I can make a tradition out of not having traditions.

To be honest, it's a bit daunting to go through our first set of holidays together knowing that our second set could be spent apart. I feel like we'll be on a serious curve when it comes to learning how to celebrate as a couple. But, hey, it's an excuse to act like newlyweds for three years or more, right?

But then part of me wants to have some hard-and-fast holiday traditions, even though I know it's just wishful thinking. Please don't mistake this for complaining — I did willfully and knowingly marry a fighting man — but I still envy my friends who have the chance to always see their families, fix hot cocoa with their kids, and leave behind cookies for Santa (and help eat them later in the night). I wish I could tell my mom that we'll be home every Christmas Eve for dinner, and that we'll see his family for brunch every Christmas morning.

Some nights lately I've sat on my couch after my husband has gone to bed, sipping wine and looking at the flickering lights on our first (fake) tree in silence. There aren't any presents under our tree because I let him open them as they arrive in the mail. He won't be able to enjoy them for as long as I'd like, so I don't want to make him wait any longer than necessary to have them. I sigh, and question how those happy military families with 10 children do this every year. Sometimes, all you can do is sigh. And drink more wine!

But those thoughts do circle back around to something much happier, usually right as I'm finishing the glass. All families can enjoy the time they have together over the holidays, I'm sure. But how many families get the opportunity to feel the appreciation that is having your service member home for a holiday? Maybe I'm setting my standards a bit low, but I do feel incredibly lucky to wake up next to my husband this Christmas morning. Time with him is never promised, and the overhanging threat of him having to be away for any reason is always there. So, I've learned to feel more.

The one thing I have heard from almost any military spouse resource — be it an official group or just another wife's blog — is that military marriages have that very rare chance to understand the deepest meaning of love, loyalty, appreciation, gratitude... you name the good feeling, we military spouses can feel it to the bone. I know that this isn't exclusive to military families, but it is only military spouses that I know for sure who get it. I can write to a fellow military wife and tell her how it felt to see my husband with all of his brothers, the excitement of his nephew on Christmas Eve and our time alone on Christmas night, probably out sharing a drink — well, I know she'll understand. She'll get it. I want to take advantage of the opportunity I have to feel that much this year, for our first Christmas together!

It's not perfect. I'm sure I will feel a lot of pressure over the years to make sure that our holidays together are always full of the right balance of family and alone time. But there isn't a doubt in my mind that every holiday spent apart will be worth the emotion and joy that comes with every other one spent together. I'd bet my glass of wine on it.

I'd like to take a moment and wish every military family out there a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Even though too many of you won't have your spouse to kiss in the morning, none of us should feel too alone. We are all in this together.

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