One of the best parts about living all around the world is picking up new traditions along the way. After three years in Germany, it was hard not to come back with German traditions. After all, they know how to celebrate the entire Christmas season, also known as Advent, beginning in late November and lasting until Christmas Eve.
When touring a local Christmas market during our first year there, I picked up an Advent candle holder. It’s nothing fancy; after all, durability is the first thing I think about when buying something new (especially with seven moves under my belt over the last 11 years). It’s a slab of wood, candles in simple gold holders, and a red silk flower in the center edged with gold glitter. It’s enough to lend a bit of sparkle as the candlelight dances around the room.
The tradition is to light a candle each Sunday leading up to Christmas Eve. We’ll light the first candle on Dec. 1, and every Sunday until Dec. 22. My family lights them at dinner, so we can talk about what each candle means.
According to some beliefs, each advent Sunday has a particular focus: Hope, love, joy, and peace. And while there is a faith-based way to discuss each of them, I also appreciate the secular application, particularly when living this military life.
Hope: To cherish something with anticipation
What does “hope” mean to you? Probably a lot of things.
Hope to move to a great duty station where your family can blossom.
Hope that orders are delayed to spend just a few more weeks as a family.
Hope that a PCS goes smoothly and that this is the time you don’t have to file extensive claims.
Hope that your children can attend good schools that keep them on a solid learning path.
Hope that the deployment smoothly ends soon.
Hope that your family can reunite seamlessly.
Hope that this is your year as a spouse to find your own place.
For my family, this is when we like to talk about our hopes and dreams, no matter how big or small. It’s when I want to ask my kids what they hope to do when they grow up, when they’re adults and capable of making their own decisions. To see their little brains working, the excitement to dream and imagine without limitation. To stretch their wings as far as they can and soar in their minds to an alternate world, where they’re in control of their destiny.
I like to think about the next year with my husband, our plans together as partners. Because even though we’re told where to go next and the military has a significant hold of us, we still have our own relationship. There was a time when those hopes included what jobs we would have, what achievements we wanted to make, when we would start a family.
Our hopes are sometimes what guide us through the next year. Let hope guide you, for yourself, your children, your spouse, and your future.
Love: Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
Most of us hear the word “love” and immediately think about romantic love, but love has many manifestations: the love for our children, the love for our parents, the love between friends, the love within our community.
This military community has a lot of love to go around—families making the most of their time together, living life as if the service member deploys tomorrow. We take extra care to show love to our extended families who we can’t be with as often as we might like. We have friends in this community that feel like family, and we’re fortunate to have that.
During this holiday season, put those people at the forefront. Show love not just until the end of the year, but into the next one. In this life, our time with friends, neighbors, and our local community is short. Make the most of it. Let the people you love know how they make your life better, brighter. Let love carry you this season if you’re celebrating the holidays far from home.
Joy: A state of happiness or felicity
Since Thanksgiving is now over, you might have reflected on just how much you’re grateful for. In military life, there’s quite a bit to love, but when things get hard, it’s easy to overlook it.
My favorite thing to do with my kids at bedtime is ask them, “What was the best thing about today?” Sometimes I chuckle at the little things that were the best:
“I got to collect leaves at school today.”
“We played outside three times today instead of just two.”
“It was ice cream Friday!”
“My friend shared her snack with me today.”
None of those experiences are huge to us as adults, but for my children, there wasn’t anything that outranked them that day.
Find the joy in the little things. It isn’t about the gifts, or the shopping, or the travel arrangements. This season is about love, togetherness, peace, and joy. Find childlike joy in the every day.
Peace: Freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
Go ahead and read that definition one more time.
Take it in again. Let it marinate in your brain for a minute.
Now I want you to think about the weight you carry on our shoulders every day. Sometimes it’s more than we’d like.
Our shoulders sag, our smiles tilt to frowns, our thoughts race (and maybe even our hearts), and we’re so tired from it all.
In this life, we do carry a lot of weight, especially if our service member isn’t at home. The duties of playing both parents to help balance the absence is hard work. It’s disheartening when we live at a location we don’t like, when we have to drive a distance just to reach “civilization.” It’s hard when we get our hopes up for an exciting duty station like Hawaii or somewhere in Europe or Asia, but then find out we’re going to a small landlocked installation in the heart of the U.S. instead.
It’s important to make peace with your experiences, with your choices. You’ll have to find ways to let go of negativity, guilt, certain expectations, and experiences from your past. Remember that there are people here to support you—your community, your friends, and your family—to carry you when you aren’t sure you can carry yourself, who can share the burden and lift you up when needed.
Make your own peace with your closest support system and work to maintain that, to let others help carry the burdens that weigh you down.
However you celebrate the holiday season, consider reflecting on the four pieces of that Advent calendar and spread hope, love, joy, and peace, not only throughout December, but throughout the year. Explore the elements of each of those that are most important to you, closest to your heart, and maintain them into the next year. Find all the good that’s out there and hold it close when you do.