Happy Holidays! Halloween has come and gone, followed by Thanksgiving, catapulting us into two months of brisk breezes and joyous Christmas music. I'm not here to debate the date in which we should crank up Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You (although, I think it can generally be accepted that, in 2020, it's never too early for the magic of Christmas). What I am here to discuss, though, is how life as a military teen can affect the holiday traditions people hold so dear to their hearts.
Everyone has holiday traditions, but let's take a look at those of a civilian family's first: everyone wakes up and races down the creaking stairs they grew up in to sneak a peek at the pine tree sitting in the foyer. Dad snaps a picture of the kids sitting next to the window and adds it to the never-ending collection of family Christmas's that have occurred in that room. After tearing open presents, everyone changes into nicer clothes and drives the twenty to forty minutes to Grandma's house. Upon arrival, the cousins embrace and begin scheming or rehearsing the dance in which they'll perform for the aunts, uncles, and grandparents. That night, everyone goes to church and the youngest cousins sing in the Christmas pageant, wearing the same costumes their older cousins had worn years earlier. When Mom and Dad are tired and gifts have been exchanged, they drive the familiar route back to their home. Everyone goes to bed and starts the countdown -364 days- until the same schedule in the same house with the same people.
To my readers -whom I assume are military teens- you may be a little confused. Doesn't that stuff only exist in the movies? Well, no. In fact, that's normal Christmas. For most people, the holidays are a time of tradition and peace.
But for us military folk and our frequent moves (sometimes as much as every year), there is little tradition in our lives other than the unique ones we forge ourselves. We rely on change, on uncertainty.
All too often, we don't even get to spend Christmas with our family. In fact, we may even have a parent who's missing, fighting for freedom overseas. Our grandparents may live across the country, along with our cousins. And if there wasn't a long enough Christmas break or enough spare change or the logistics simply don't work out, we find ourselves spending Christmas in a house we moved into five months ago with no warm embraces from our extended family.
Many would argue that it's the company you surround yourself with that makes the holidays special. Military brats, I'm here to tell you that you are endlessly strong because year after year you find ways of making your holidays special, even if the conventional ways don't work out.
Now, how many of you have lost something in a move? Or had something broken? While the packers and movers try their best, moving overseas and cross-country is bound to cause some issues with your possessions. Christmas decor and family heirlooms are no exception. Countless times I've frowned at the blank spot above the fireplace where our missing stockings usually hung. I've lost count of how many times we've excitedly unboxed Christmas ornaments a late November day only to find them shattered in the packing peanut-filled box. It might seem materialistic, but these keepsakes and decorations help make Christmas Christmas, especially if you are spending the holidays in a foreign land and new home.
So, just to recap, where civilians often have a familiar joyous holiday that's full of family and tradition, we have to create a new way of celebrating every year.
In short, a military Christmas often lacks the tradition that trademarks the holiday. But, dear military brats, I'm willing to bet you still wear ugly Christmas sweaters and suck on candy-canes when the cold weather comes a-knockin'. It would thoroughly shock me if you -a breed of Americans raised to adapt and make the best of situations- let these holiday road bumps ruin your Christmas.
Always the optimist, I'm here to tell you that despite our lack of tradition, we still know how to conjure the holiday spirit. I'd also like to believe that we, or at least I, find tradition in its absence.
When I travel into the homes of fellow military families, I am often greeted with a super special tree with ornaments from each place they've lived. For any civilian families, that might be a pretty bare tree.
How many times have you bought the most luxurious gifts from Peru and Germany and sent them home to friends and family? *hand raise* Have you gotten to enjoy a white Christmas when your family in Arkansas is shivering in 50-degree weather? See? There are some perks to our crazy lives!
My holiday tradition is the cross-country road trip to see my grandparents. Sometimes this trip is just a few hours of blasting Straight No Chaser's Christmas albums, and other times it's two days of audiobooks and gas station stops. But, every year I pack my bag and snuggle next to our two dogs as we make for Ohio, traveling from various destinations.
Another holiday tradition is the collection and publication of Christmas cards. Long before I started writing for Bloom, I was creating a Christmas Newsletter to send to all our friends and family, describing where the military had taken us that year and what we'd made of it. We'd attach the letter to our aesthetic Christmas card and let it travel across the world. My family may have lost numerous ornaments over moves, but we still have each edition of The Oakley Times stored away.
Military life pulls the rug of conventional holiday tradition out from under your feet. When you should be relaxing and submitting to the nostalgia of repeated annual events, you all too often find yourself scrambling for scraps of normalcy. Praying your favorite ornament isn't broken. Searching for a suitable place to shove the giant tree. Calculating if you will be able to drive to Ohio and back before winter break is over. Groaning at the cost of shipping gifts across the country to extended family.
Tradition, what a nice word. There is something so beautiful, laced in nostalgia, about the nine-letter word. But I, for one, am a bit more familiar with change and adapt. As a military brat, my most sacred traditions include packing up the house, researching what new state I'll move to, and starting a Pinterest board for my new room. These not-so-common childhood traditions extend to Christmas.
I'd be a fool to say that military life doesn't cast a damper on the holiday season. At the very least, nomadic life simply makes things much more difficult. But, hellooooo, we're military teens! We were raised on unstable grounds. It's on that soil where we planted our roots and grew. We thrive in change. Where there is a new experience, there is an opportunity for new traditions.
So, beautiful military brats, as you set forth for the holidays this year, remember that while you might not have the luxury of the typical, tradition packed holiday, you still have all the power in you to make it joyous. Embrace the unknown, and forge it into something bright and worthy of tradition.
Happy holidays and safe travels! Don't forget to pack your mask ;)
*Bonus points to anyone who can count how many times I said "tradition" in this article!*