Everyone wants to connect during the holidays, but this can be a difficult challenge for military families. Many are stationed far from their relatives, and some service members spend time deployed away from loved ones. It takes some creativity to feel connected when you are apart.
During my two decades as a military loved one, my service member and I have spent so many holidays apart. When he was in Boot Camp during Christmas, he called me for the first time in months, and I barely recognized his voice because he was so hoarse. We were allowed to send a large batch of cookies that were distributed to his platoon.
Another Christmas, he was deployed to Japan, so I flew across the country with our four children by myself to spend time with my family. My husband stayed up late in his time zone to watch the kids open their presents on Christmas morning via video call.
While the holidays are a difficult time to be away from your service member or your family, there are now so many options to help you feel connected during moments that matter.
Connect to your Service Member during the holidays
Send a taste of home. Care packages are an important way to include your service member in your holiday traditions and give them a taste of their favorite foods. Include non-perishable snacks and treats, along with small wrapped gifts, playing cards, and entertaining items. Consider sending holiday decorations and small gifts for your service member to share with their deployed unit, or send an extra care package for unmarried troops who get less mail. If you send homemade goods, research the best ways to preserve them since they may take over a week to arrive. Plan ahead and send seasonal care packages early, to accommodate for slower delivery times from the Post Office. Here are the details on sending a care package to a service member overseas.
Navigate time zone differences. If your service member is deployed to another part of the world, it might not be the same day where they are! Use apps that will help you both adjust to the time change. Clocks and timers can remind you when to wish them happy holidays for their time zone. Marco Polo lets you record video messages when it’s convenient for you, then the other person can view and respond whenever they are awake. Apps like Rave or SyncPlay let you watch movies together, so you can have a date night and enjoy watching a show together, no matter how far apart you are. Suspending the service member’s wireless service and just using the phone’s wifi apps can save you lots of money during deployments.
Play games together. A great way for deployed service members to connect with their loved ones is to spend time playing games together. Instead of waving to the screen during a video call, sign onto any game you can play remotely and enjoy some low-key bonding time. There are many choices available as free downloads, and you and the service member can play together as long as you each download the game and know each other’s screenname or email. This is an easy way for kids to bond with their deployed parent, because neither one needs to keep up a steady conversation during a video call.
Celebrate on your own schedule. There’s nothing wrong with Christmas in July! While the world celebrates Christmas on December 25th, not everyone opens presents that day. Children in Spain wait until Epiphany (January 6) to open their gifts, which are from the 3 Wise Men instead of Santa. So there’s no rule that your service member has to miss a holiday because they aren’t home on that day. There are years where we began decorating in October so we could enjoy some holiday spirit before he spent time away training. And there was one year where we saved all his gifts until February, when he returned from deployment, so we could have our own unique family holiday together. Don’t let “rules” and traditions cramp your holiday style.
Connect to your families during the holidays
Send virtual hugs home. If you are a military family who can’t travel home this year, you don’t have to miss family traditions and togetherness. Plan ahead to send cards, gifts, or a personalized care package to your loved ones. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s more important to let them know you care. Children can trace their outstretched arms on paper to send a long-distance hug. Send a patriotic ornament or a food local to your duty station to give them a sweet taste of military life. If your parents will miss seeing your face at their holiday table, have something delivered to their door that will help cheer them up.
Video call for the moments that matter. Military families often aren’t able to travel for the holidays, so you may miss gathering with extended family. You can still join the celebration by scheduling a phone or video call when everyone is together. Let the phone get passed around for a few minutes so you have a chance to greet everyone. If you do travel to visit family, then try to schedule a video call with the service member so they have a few minutes to see everyone’s faces and exchange some holiday greetings.
Volunteer to support the troops. Anyone can support troops during the holidays, whether you are a military family or a civilian living far from a military base. Spend your time or money supporting military-friendly organizations that give back to those who give the most. You can volunteer in person with local charities or giveaways. You can prepare donations for homeless veterans. Or just send extra care packages to your service member’s unit! Doing something for others is a great way to bolster your own morale during the holidays.
No matter which holidays you celebrate, these are wonderful ways to connect with your service member and your fmaily members across the distance!