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How to Celebrate When You Aren’t Going “Home” for the Holidays

by Rebecca Alwine - October 2nd, 2022

How to Celebrate When You Aren’t Going “Home” for the Holidays

The holiday season is complicated for military families. Some want to go home and can’t, some would rather stay where they are and have family come to them, and others don’t want to be with any extended family.

The good news is there is room for everyone to do what they think is best. Traditions can still be upheld, families can still keep in touch, and everyone can celebrate the way they want.

When you are across the country, or even the world, from your family during the holidays, how do you make the most out of that time?

Embrace the option to do something new

Just like Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean a huge turkey dinner, the winter holidays don’t have to include massive decorations or giant piles of presents. Decide what things you most want to do as a family and get rid of the rest. This doesn’t have to be a sad or depressing time, it’s just different. Being stationed in a new part of the country-- or on the other side of the world!--can be a unique opportunity to explore local traditions, and see if you enjoy how people celebrate in your new town.

Set up a video call

For the last two decades, service members have been celebrating the holidays downrange with hopes of a call home or a video chat. We can make those same things happen with our family members who aren’t in the same room.

Open presents with grandparents on a video call. Share a meal together over Facetime. Listen to the same music station or watch a movie at the same time as friends in a different time zone. With the Marco Polo app, you can record messages or funny moments as they occur in your house, and family members can watch and respond to the recordings on their own time. There are many ways technology can help us stay connected over the holidays.

Change up the traditions

If this is your first year not traveling home to see family for the holidays, it’s a great time to figure out your new family traditions. Find a way to blend your traditions with your spouse’s. See what the kids want to start doing each year. If you can find a way to keep your favorite traditions, even when you’re on the move, you’ll be grateful for that for years to come.

Have fun with care packages

Care packages aren’t just for deployed service members. You can create a fun care package for extended family as well. Decorate the box, include an ornament from your tree, and swap them. Add some local treats as gifts and some artwork from the kids or homemade gifts.

Take advantage of the local area

If you haven’t gotten out and explored your local area, this is precisely the time to do so. Even the smaller places have wonderful holiday traditions. San Diego, California has a Boat Parade with beautiful lights on all the boats in the harbor. Pensacola, Florida has a parade on the Friday after Christmas that ends at the park where they turn all the lights on. Fort Huachuca, Arizona has a 5k Jingle Jog that ends at the start line for the holiday parade on the first weekend of December. There are historic homes decorated and open to the public. Neighborhoods are full of amazing light displays and concerts galore. Find some new things to try and have fun with your local friends.

The PCSgrades blog has tons of bucket lists, date night ideas, and family-friendly activities for military bases across the country! Search for creative ideas and fun activities in your area here.

Celebrate with friends

The lazy, slow days around the holidays are a great time to get together with other military families and share meals, play games, and celebrate together. You can help each other decorate, or undecorate, you can learn about other winter holidays, and you can learn to make new dishes. In military life, the possibilities for holiday celebrations are endless. All you need is an open mind and a few friends.

Wherever and however you choose to celebrate, PCSgrades wishes you Happy Holidays!

Rebecca Alwine

Rebecca Alwine is an Army wife, mother of three and lover of her adorable pirate dog. Over the past 15 years, she’s discovered she enjoys coffee, lifting weights and most of the menial tasks of motherhood. Her days consist of working out in her garage gym, audiobooks and pretending to cook while her Instant Pot and Air Fryer do all the work. Her motto: work smarter, not harder.