Creating Meaningful Holiday Traditions as a Military Family

Written by Tessarose Brown

The most wonderful time of year is fast approaching, and holiday family traditions are on our minds! Some stores are already advertising and selling holiday decorations, cookware, and supplies. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. However, I remember from my childhood in a military family that sometimes the holidays were challenging for us. Despite being separated by deployment or distance, we found ways to celebrate together as a family.

Now, as a member of my own military family, I make sure to continue some of those holiday traditions. My advice to all families, especially military ones, is to identify the moments and traditions that resonate with you and make an effort to uphold and personalize them. Additionally, remain open to creating new traditions, even if they seem unconventional for the holiday season.

Sharing Holiday Food Traditions

In our family, food has always played a significant role in our cultural celebrations, especially our beloved holiday food traditions. Whether it was a birthday, anniversary, or holiday, food brought us together. It wasn’t just about what we ate, but the act of preparing it together. The holiday season provides a perfect opportunity to teach your friends and family how to make traditional dishes from your culture. This is a wonderful way to connect with your loved ones.

In my own family, we’ve made it a holiday tradition to prepare some of our favorite Filipino dishes together. We even involve our three-year-old daughter in measuring and cooking rice. Often, military families are separated from their extended relatives, and sharing recipes is one way to bridge that gap. My in-laws have learned how to make several Filipino dishes, and technology, like FaceTime and other video chatting apps, has been a helpful tool in this culinary exchange.

Creating Meaningful Holidays

Being together during the holidays is immensely important to us. However, as a military family, physical togetherness is not always possible. One tradition I’ve always admired in my family is my father’s practice of inviting single soldiers to our holiday gatherings, allowing them to celebrate with home-cooked meals and fun, fostering a sense of belonging and creating meaningful holidays.

A new tradition we’ve embraced is playing games together, reminiscent of “minute to win it” challenges. These games are easy to set up and quick to play, making them accessible to everyone. Some of our favorites include “Face the Cookie” and “Junk in the Trunk.”

Celebrating Holiday Traditions and Culture

The holidays are the perfect time to celebrate your heritage and engage in cherished holiday traditions that are meaningful to you and your loved ones. In my culture, we hang a star lantern made of bamboo and paper called a parol during the holidays. The lantern symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, as well as hope and goodwill.

Embracing your cultural identity can also involve wearing traditional clothing. In Filipino culture, particularly during special events and holidays, men don a Barong Tagalog, or Barong, which is an embroidered long-sleeved traditional shirt. Women, on the other hand, wear a Baro’t Saya, which directly translates to “Shirt and Skirt.” It typically consists of a kimona top with butterfly or bell sleeves and a matching skirt. These garments are often intricately embroidered, beaded, painted, or adorned with cutwork, adding a beautiful touch to our holiday traditions and celebrations.

Starting New Traditions

For a while. it was just my service member and me spending the holidays together. During this time, we created a holiday food tradition of cooking our favorite dish, a Filipino sour soup called sinigang. Although my service member doesn’t typically cook, we make a point to cook together during the holidays. Now that we have children, we want to implement other holiday family traditions we’ve discovered through friends and other military families. One idea we like is gifting the whole family matching pajamas, a book for each child, and watching a Christmas movie together on Christmas Eve. We cherish the intimate and special time it provides for us and our girls.

Giving Back

Ultimately, holidays are a time for giving. While this may involve exchanging gifts within your family, I encourage everyone to find a way to give back to those in need, such as exploring how to help military families. Considering the challenges faced by many junior enlisted families, including food insecurity and limited incomes, one impactful way to help is by volunteering at your local Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA). Many branches conduct neighborhood food exchanges, stock food pantries, and organize toy drives to support military families during the holiday season and beyond.

When my girls are old enough, I hope we can spend a few hours during the holidays giving back at our local ASYMCA and other organizations, as a way to show our support for military families and those less fortunate in our community.

How to Help Military Families through the ASYMCA

The ASYMCA understands how important holiday traditions are for military families. These customs help maintain a sense of togetherness and create lasting memories, even when deployments and separations make things challenging. ASYMCA’s Operation Holiday Joy and Operation Ride Home are programs that assist military families during the holidays by providing toys and funds for travel. You can contribute to these essential programs by making a tax-deductible donation to help support military families during this festive season.