A service member watches her children open presents via video chat.

Creating New Holiday Traditions When Your Service Member Is Away

With your service member away and people around the world avoiding travel and large gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the holidays may feel different this year.

There are things you can do to help make the holiday special for yourself and those you love, whether your service member is stationed far from home or deployed. Sharing old traditions and creating new ones can keep the holidays fun and meaningful, and help you stay connected.

You are an important influence in your service member’s life. Sharing traditions or creating new ones during this time of year shows that you are thinking about and supporting your loved ones. This is meaningful, as they – and you – may be feeling a lot of emotions, whether they express it or not.

Creating new virtual traditions

With video get-togethers more common since the pandemic started, your service member and other loved ones are probably comfortable with online visits. Think about scheduling one or more virtual get-togethers this season. Add in some holiday fun to make them even more memorable.

Hold a virtual “potluck.” No need to bring food to this get-together, just something else to share – a toast, joke, poem or favorite holiday memory.

Create a slideshow of holidays past. Collect photos and short videos from family and friends in plenty of time to create a slideshow or video presentation of seasons past. Use screen-sharing during an online gathering to show the presentation. Half the fun will be seeing each other’s reactions and sharing memories.

Schedule a holiday game night. Create and email bingo cards for guests to print out for a holiday bingo night. Or hold a trivia night of random facts, family history or a combination of both. Look into multiplayer online games that everyone will enjoy and that will create the feeling of being there with each other.

Open presents together. Get together virtually to share the experience of opening presents. If your service member has children, read a holiday story.

Watch your favorite holiday movie at the same time. If possible, watch while using video chat or social media to comment on the best parts in real time. If holiday movies are not your thing, you could choose a television series to stream and talk about.

Other new traditions to try

Here are some more ideas to bridge the distance gap and celebrate with loved ones. See if they work for you, and share them with others in your service member’s network of support.

Design family T-shirts or hats for family members to wear one day around the holidays. Put something meaningful or fun on them and then video chat or text pictures of yourselves wearing them. Send your service member one of the T-shirts or hats ahead of time, so they can wear it on the designated day.

Send a care package or even an experience. Sending a care package is a great way to brighten your service member’s holiday season, especially if they are deployed. Or you might consider sending an experience they may remember over time. Think about giving your service member a round of golf or a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

Create a photo book. Include images of you and your service member, together and apart, from throughout the years. Make a copy for you and send a copy to them as a holiday gift to share and look through together.

Encourage your service member to get together with friends. Missing home may put a damper on wanting to celebrate, but suggesting that your loved one get together safely with buddies and newfound friends can help. Remind them to embrace the local culture whether they are in North Dakota, the Pacific region or somewhere else.

Adopt a foreign holiday tradition. If your service member is stationed abroad, research the country’s holiday traditions and incorporate one or a few into your own.

Volunteer or send a donation on behalf of your service member to a favorite charity. Your service member is serving our nation. Take their lead and volunteer over the holiday season in your local community. Or donate to an organization on behalf of your service member, something that is close to his or her heart.

Send several holiday cards in the same package. Write a different note of appreciation and love in each one. Your service member can open one card a day leading up to the holiday. See these guidelines from the Postal Service to make sure your cards get there on time.

Send a homemade ornament with pictures of you, children or cherished pets on it.

Check out these other holiday resources from Military OneSource for ideas to help spark new holiday traditions for your family and alert your service member of available resources for the holidays and beyond.

Whatever your holiday plans, make sure you and your service member set realistic expectations ahead of time. Are you expecting to talk over the holidays? Do you want to send presents? Discuss what you want, and make sure it’s doable based on your loved one’s location and operational situation. And don’t forget the postal deadlines.

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