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Celebrate Your Own Way This Season!

As we enter the season to celebrate with family, I am reminded of the book my kids loved to read when they were little called,“The Relatives Came” by Cynthia Rylant.

It tells the story of a family and the arrival of a large group of relatives for a summer visit. The aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins are all so happy to be together enjoying each other’s company.

For some families, the holidays are filled with this kind of togetherness. Lots of fun activities, hugs, baking, decorating, playing games and general merriment. But what about when the relatives don’t come to visit? 


When you are stationed far from family this kind of get together might not be realistic. 


When there isn’t enough leave or a long enough school break to warrant traveling “home”, it can be disappointing when the relatives don’t come to visit your duty station.

But, if we look at it from another perspective, it can also be freeing and an opportunity to try some new things for you and your kids.   

So what do you do when the relatives don’t come to visit?

I know it can be disappointing, especially for the kids but maybe it can also be an opportunity to explore some new traditions.  


Keep it Simple 


Maybe a low key holiday is just what your family needs to reset.  Spending the holidays in pajamas with a steady diet of Pillsbury pigs in a blanket, cookie dough and Cutie oranges can make us all feel like kids again.


Christmas Crafts

This is a great time to try out some messy YouTube crafts with the kids,  or engage in some extra long games of Monopoly or Risk. 

Watching Christmas specials and reading all the Christmas books are memories you will cherish when soon they become teenagers with airpods permanently implanted in their ears.

Also with no one joining you for dinner why not take the day off and try out pre-cooked holiday meals from restaurants or supermarkets.



Make it Formal 


Maybe it’s time to break out of the pajamas and have some fancy fun! We have been known on occasion to dig out military ball gowns, prom dresses, suit coats and bow ties and have “Fancy Dinner”. 

We try to use all the stuff we’ve been saving for a special occasion.  We eat dinner on the good china, drink from the champagne flutes and light every candle we can find. 

We also strategically place the candles near mirrors so we can create enough candle light to turn out the overhead lights. To add to the ambiance we play classical music, well we start with classical music and then start taking requests as we move into the dance party portion of the festivities. 

We dig out all the glow sticks from Halloween and have an after dinner basement rave.  


Get Outside




Some holidays we’ve made extra effort to get outside. One of our favorite activities after a big snow is to gear up in snow pants and mittens, grab the sleds, a bag of popped popcorn, a thermos of Hot Chocolate and drive around looking for the perfect sledding hill.

We enjoyed going to local MWR areas and creating sledding tracks. We took turns racing down the hill and points were awarded for the furthest ride and fastest ride.

We’d take snack breaks, make snow angels, snowmen and inevitably there would be a snowball fight. 


Try Something New 


Even if you’ve been at this duty station for a while I bet there is something “holiday themed” that you haven’t discovered yet. Is a local church hosting a live nativity scene?  Our last duty station had a giant menorah that we would visit. 

Look for tree decorating competitions or gingerbread house designing. Local malls usually have events and concerts to encourage shoppers to visit.

Find the street with the most lights and holiday decorations.  


Host an Open House 


One year we had expected relatives to visit and when they were unable to, my kids were bummed. The school calendar that year gave the students a shorter than usual school break so most of our neighbors were not traveling. 

We decided to have an open house and invite everyone to drop by and share some Christmas Eve spirit with us. 

It was great, my kids loved sharing the excitement of the night with their friends and it kept them too busy to beg to open presents. 

It was completely casual and relaxed as Christmas preparations were done. 


Acts of Service


Is there something your family can do to improve conditions in your community? Select an item to buy from an  Angel Tree for families in need? A food bank to work at?

Wreaths Across America is an organization that places red bowed wreaths on every grave, in participating military cemeteries, and they invite volunteers the first Saturday in December.

Your family can decide to do a group project together or each member can pick their own and you can all support each other. 


Do Something Crazy! 


Last year I got an email from the SPCA that we volunteered with and they needed a favor. We were listed as a cat foster family with no dogs and they needed to place a  puppy immediately that was recovering from an illness.


Christmas puppies

They explained there were 3 puppies and we could either take 1 and leave the other 2, so they could be in isolation together, or we could take all 3 puppies. At Christmas.

The last time I had a dog I was 10 years old. My husband and kids had never had a dog.

We took all three. It was crazy; they ate a couch, all the molding, and a table leg but they were wiggly, cuddly, wonderful babies. It was definitely a holiday we’ll never forget.


The holidays will be what you make them. 


Instead of focusing on what you “should do” or what your neighbors or extended family are doing, take this opportunity to think about what would best serve your family.

We have had a wide variety of holidays. Some have been busy, some quiet, some at home, some at a different home, some at relatives and some at hotels.  We have enjoyed the different celebrations. 

Consider what would be in your family’s best interest and try to make that happen. Wishing you a holiday that will bring you joy. 




*To read more of Heather’s work, click HERE.




  • Heather Barnhill

    Heather has been a military spouse for an incredible 22 years. Despite her husband’s bedtime stories to their kids, she did not grow up in an igloo and was not delivered to Fort Drum by a dog sled team. Born in Nova Scotia she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Masters in Secondary Education in English and Drama. According to her bedtime stories to their kids, Heather met her handsome soldier Jason at a royal ball, just like Cinderella (if Cinderella met her Prince on the sticky dance floor of The Fire Station bar). They have 3 kids who no longer trust anything they say. Heather has sporadically been a substitute teacher, homeschool teacher and swim coach at their various duty stations. She spends her spare time volunteering for the PTO, helped direct the middle school musical, DUSA and sponsoring cadets. She loves writing and uses it to help her process military life. Her family is currently stationed in NY and are preparing for a high school graduation, college move in and overseas PCS this summer. She has fostered 19 cats and 3 puppies and enjoys swimming, running and theater.


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The Days Are Long as a Milspouse

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