Service member watches their children open presents via video chat.
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Creating New Holiday Traditions When Your Service Member Is Away

Holidays can feel very different when your service member is away. There are traditions that you’d like to share with them or wish they could participate in. But there are things you can do to help yourself – and your service member – make the holidays special, whether they are 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 service member. This is meaningful, as they – and you – may be feeling a lot of emotions, whether they express it or not.

Creating new traditions

Here are some ideas other service families have used to bridge the distance gap. See if they work for you, and share them with others in your loved one’s network of support.

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.

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 fun pictures. Send your service member one of the T-shirts or hats ahead of time so they can wear.

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. Even consider sending an experience they may remember over time. If they are otherwise unable to make it home, think about giving them your airline points so they can enjoy a trip, a round of golf or even a dinner out.

Create a photobook. Include images of you and your service member, together and apart, from throughout the year. 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 with buddies and new-found friends can help your service member. Remind them to embrace the local culture whether they are in North Dakota, the Pacific region or somewhere else.

Invite others without local family to your holiday table and activities. Be the family and support that your friends need. Include them in your activities and involve their favorite traditions too. This is really where the military community is at its best, when we look out for one another. Encourage your service member to include people without local family in your activities.

Schedule a holiday visit with video chat. Open presents together or, if your service member has children, read a holiday story.

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 on Christmas Day? 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.