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Finding Joy in the Midst of a Holiday Deployment

I don’t know about you, but there’s something about Christmas that restores a child-like fun and excitement. I have no trouble finding joy. I look forward to the smells of baked goods, the Christmas music, and myriad twinkling lights adorning homes and trees during the holidays. I love watching the wonder of Christmas through my children’s eyes.

It truly is a magical time of the year.

If I had my way, deployments and Christmas just wouldn’t go together. But they can and they do—unfortunately, for many of us. It’s a time of love, connection, giving, and family.

How can you maintain that feeling of love, joy, and connection when the person you love the most is not there?

There’s no substitute for your service member’s presence, but there are ways to stay connected, find joy, and truly thrive during the holiday season. My family has been gifted two deployments in the last three years that have stretched out over the Christmas holiday. When I found out my husband would be missing Christmas, I started brainstorming ways to make it special, fun, and as tear-free as possible for myself and my two children, who desperately missed their daddy.

I’ve compiled some ideas of ways we found joy and fun in the midst of a holiday deployment:

1. Visit family.

When I asked my kids (13 and 10 years old) the #1 way to keep the holidays fun during a deployment, they immediately said visiting family. This might look like booking flights or driving back home to family. It could be reaching out and having family come to you. A friend of mine flew her mom out Christmas Eve and surprised her children with her arrival.

She said it was a great distraction and added a special surprise for her and the kids. I encourage you not to isolate yourself. Even though it may seem to be the easiest and cheapest route to take, it can bring even more loneliness to an already difficult time.

2. Do Christmas with a milspouse friend.

If visiting family or having family come to you isn’t an option, find another milspouse whose husband is also deployed and do Christmas together, or plan a getaway! We are made to be in community, and I can guarantee you aren’t the only one searching for something to do during the holidays to keep your mind off your husband’s absence.

3. If you can visit your service member, do!

If your service member is on a deployment or rotation that allows him to have visitors, take the trip! Last year my husband was gone on a nine-month rotation to Germany that spanned over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday. He had a few days off during that time, so we decided we’d bite the bullet and pay the crazy amount for flights to Germany, an Airbnb, and car rental to be together for a week at Christmas.

There are many ways to go about finding joy in the midst of deployment. Here's a list of how.

Visiting my husband in Germany last Christmas

The kids and I arrived in Germany on Christmas Day, and I’ll tell you, it was one of the best and most memorable Christmases we’ve ever had! It wasn’t an easy or cheap trip, but it was worth it. If you can visit your service member or they can come to you, try and make it happen. It’s worth the time and money invested.

4. Stay connected.

If seeing your service member is out of the question, there are still ways to stay connected at Christmas:

  • Have them send items to fill an advent calendar and video chat when the kids open it each day.
  • Send your partner a filled advent calendar or advent envelopes with a special note or picture to open                            each day.
  • Purchase matching family pajamas and send your spouse a set. Have them wear theirs on Christmas morning, so when you video chat, you’ll match. You could also send the pajamas early and have your partner take a photo so you can include it in your Christmas card.
  • On Christmas morning, create a scavenger hunt to open gifts, and take your spouse along on video chat for the                      adventure.
  • Play a game over video chat with your spouse. My kids love doing this when their dad is away. Their                                  favorites are playing chess (my son) and Trivial Pursuit (my daughter). Thankfully technology makes                              playing almost any kind of game from far away possible!

5. Find ways to give back.

Make a list of Random Acts of Kindness that you, your kids, or a group can do together over the holidays. There’s something incredible that happens inside us when we take the focus off ourselves and bless others. These acts of kindness are fun to do and don’t have to be complicated or expensive. Hiding $1 bills throughout the Dollar Store, taking cookies to the nearby fire station, paying for someone’s coffee in the Starbucks line are just a few ideas. You can find more ideas by searching “Random Acts of Kindness Ideas,” or you can get some ideas here.

6. Find fun local holiday activities. 

Search for fun holiday activities to do in your town/city. Many places have lists of where to see the best Christmas light displays. Make some hot cocoa, load up the kids in their jammies, and ask some friends to join you to see Christmas lights!

7. Keep your traditions, or make a new one.

Last Christmas I decided I wanted to have a military tree, so I bought a little 3-foot artificial tree on sale at Target. I had about half a dozen military ornaments from different duty stations and unit specific ornaments that were given to me, but I needed some more. The very next day I found a lady selling patriotic ornaments on Facebook marketplace. Perfect!

As I set the tree back up this year, I was reminded of all the blessings and opportunities that this crazy, wonderful military life has afforded us. We’ve all heard the saying “bloom where you’re planted.” During the holiday season it’s extra challenging to tap into that joy and excitement and feel like you’re blooming when you’re also trudging through a deployment.

And one thing not to do…

Consider this a PSA. Do not listen to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or any song that features service members giving special greetings to their families back home. I repeat, do not do it! (Unless you want all joy to be instantaneously sucked out of your soul  and the flood gates to open in your tear ducts).

 

In all of this, know that you aren’t alone. Reach out. Make plans. Find another milspouse and take a trip. Bless some people with random acts of kindness. Stay connected with your partner. It won’t be the same as having them home, but it can be a unique time to create new, fun memories that can bring joy even in the most difficult of seasons.

Wishing you and your family a blessed Christmas and very happy New Year! And if your service member is away this holiday season, may you feel strengthened and discover joy in unexpected places as you await their return.

What are some ways that have helped you find joy in the midst of a deployment during the holidays? Please leave a comment below.

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