I’m writing in the house that I grew up in. I’m home for a quick visit, trying to squeeze in as much of the holidays with my family as I can before going back to Hawaii.
Growing up, we always did the same things at Christmas time. We went to NYC to see the tree. We saw the Rockettes at Radio City. My dad hung up the wood decorations he made by hand. We went to the same farm in Connecticut to cut down our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, packing up the car with turkey leftovers that we ate cold in the car. My dad and I would go shopping around December 22. It started because we were procrastinators, but now we go just because it’s ridiculous. My mom and I wrap presents while watching Christmas movies. We always baked the same cookies and opened presents in the same place. I loved it all and I still do a lot of those things when my family whenever I’m home.
I still hold onto many of those traditions with my family, but now Nick and I have some of our own special traditions. Even though they are “traditions,” they look so different from year to year.
I used to think that tradition meant doing everything exactly the same every year. When Nick and I got married, our first Christmas in Hawaii was so important to me. I thought that we would always do the same traditions every single year and that we had to establish those traditions during our first Christmas together. But during first married Christmas together, Nick worked – not something I want to repeat evert year. Thanks to military life, we will never do the same exact things every year. And I’ve learned to not only be okay with that, but to love it.
Now we’re on our 4th married Christmas, and every single one has been different. I’ve tried to keep a few traditions the same in whatever form they can take.
Whether we are in Hawaii or Connecticut, we always watch our favorite Christmas movies. That’s easy, all you need is a laptop. We always make tons of fancy food (by we I mean Nick). One year Nick made french macaroons. Last year he made mulled wine. We take silly pictures in Santa hats and mail out Christmas cards and scramble to get all of our military friends’ addresses. We make a special trip to the store together to pick out cards for our families. We wear matching Christmas pajamas from morning to night, pajamas that everyone in my family wears. We make decorating our Christmas tree together a big event with a home cooked dinner. We give each other ornaments, my favorite thing to buy for Nick.
During our first married Christmas, we bought Christmas stockings. We are serious about our stockings, people. Last year when we were PCSing, we didn’t have time to get each other big gifts. So instead, we put our Christmas stockings in our suitcases and filled them up for each other while we were traveling in between duty stations. These stockings have been around the block and every time I look at them now I think about filling Nick’s up while we were in between duty stations.
All of my friends were posting pictures as they cut down their Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving. They all looked so cozy and happy. I felt a twinge of sadness because this year, Nick and I won’t be able to do that. It’s one of my favorite Christmas traditions, but I can’t let little things like that get me down. So instead, we bought a fake tree. I kind of like the idea that we can bring this tree with us wherever we live. No matter where we live, I’ll always remember going to the Navy Exchange and picking it out in Hawaii.
Our holidays will be spent in different cities, with different people. I’ve spent Thanksgivings with people I’ve met once and then never seen again. Sometimes Nick is there. Sometimes he’s gone. Sometimes he’s working. Sometimes we’re with family. Sometimes we’re not. One year in Hawaii we watched our friends’ dog and had Christmas at their house, opening up presents under their Christmas tree while we looked out at the beach. I don’t think we’ve ever had the same Christmas dinner twice.
I love that our Christmases don’t blend together but that I can remember each one so distinctly because they are all so different.
Nick and I can’t go to the same farm every year to cut down a tree. But we can have a fake tree that we bring all over the world with us. We can collect ornaments from all of the places we live and hang them on that tree. We might not always celebrate Christmas on Christmas but we will always find a day to sit down together, our own version of the holiday.
But because every year is so different, I’ve learned how to truly cherish the season. I don’t take any traditions for granted. I don’t want to just go through the motions and do things because I always do them. Christmas is truly a special time and I do the best I can to be present and enjoy it, to do the things that make me happy. There are so many things to do at Christmas and so many cookies to bake, that I want to try something new every single year. And there is no joy quite like getting off a 10-hour plane ride, home finally for the holidays. It makes that family time even more special.
But if you’re feeling sad because you’re not going to be home for the holidays, or because you can’t do the things you normally do at Christmas, you’re not alone. But don’t sit out on the holiday season just because it doesn’t look the way you think it should look.
Do something you’ve never done before. Put on Christmas pajamas and watch your favorite movies with some hot coco. Bake your favorite cookies. Get some military spouses together and have them do some of your traditions with you and then do the same for them. Go shopping together. Host a cookie swap. Find out what people in your area need and then give to a charity. Check out Chelsea’s December to-do list and check off as many things as you can. Love the ones you’re with. If you’re having a hard Christmas, know that this too shall pass and that every Christmas as a military spouse is different.
What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Which ones have changed?