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Celebrating as You Are

If you turn on the TV during the months of November and December, you’ll likely see commercials showing grandparents, aunts, and uncles sitting around a table eating dinner or joyously opening presents around a tree. But for many, the holidays can be a lot more complicated, and, well, messy. For those grieving lost loved ones, grappling with family differences, or even just overwhelmed by all the hustle and bustle, the holiday season might be one of the most difficult times of year. Similarly, people whose cultures celebrate differently, or even not at all, can feel alienated and ignored.

Military families have their own unique struggles around the holidays. It’s often hard to get together with family and friends who live far away. We might even be celebrating with a deployed parent missing from the table. Or we might be in transit.

On Christmas Day of last year, my family gathered on the sofa of a hotel room to begin our second to last day in California. My mom didn’t make the french toast casserole she usually does, we didn’t sit around a tree, and we got only presents we could take with us in the car for our five day trek to my dad’s new duty station in New York. My little sister was rowdy from being cooped up in a hotel room, and I was about to leave behind all of my friends. There was a lot of joy that morning, and in hindsight, I think of it fondly. But there was also underlying apprehension, grief, and a small dose of hotel-induced insanity. In that moment, it was hard to feel like all was merry and bright.

A mid-move celebration or an empty seat at your table can bring the opposite of holiday cheer. This can be lonely and isolating, all the more so during a time of year when we’re being bombarded with messages telling us to be happy and jolly. The joyous decorations, movies, advertisements, and holiday music can often give us the feeling that there’s something wrong with our lives when our emotions don’t match up.

But neither Hollywood nor the ad writers for our favorite grocery store items can tell us what celebrating should look or feel like. We’re just as entitled to self-acceptance in December as we are in July. Every celebration looks a little different because every family is a little different, and it’s important to allow ourselves distance from perceived expectations and ‘shoulds.’ Diversity is as present during the holidays as it is any other time of year, even if the television and our social media feeds don’t always show it. There is never a wrong way to feel.

Military families often don’t have the consistent presence of loved ones to celebrate with. On top of that, we have the challenge of establishing traditions that have to transcend different climates, homes, and the varying people present each year. But the traditions that we do build are all the more special for it, and they allow us to celebrate and embrace our uniqueness.

A lot of military families find ways to celebrate together. Many of my friends still living overseas will be celebrating the holidays with other military families in the same situation. For some, the season will be a quiet break to spend time at home. Others will try to stay busy and social.

This year, I’ll celebrate a return to normalcy, or as normal as life gets. My family will miss the Christmas markets we visited while living in Europe, but we’ll enjoy being with the cousins and grandparents we’re finally close enough to visit. We’ll make cutout sugar cookies while longing for German lebkuchen and stollen. On Christmas morning, we’ll adhere to our traditional routine of opening stockings before breakfast and everything under the tree afterward.

Whatever you’re celebrating, however you’re celebrating, wherever you are, and whoever you’re with, I wish you warmth and peace as winter begins. Whether you’re feeling holiday spirit, holiday blues, or a bittersweet mixture of both, you’re far from alone.

You are beautiful. You are brave. You are loved.

Happy holidays, bloomers.


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