“I miss Virginia—my friends and our house.” Seems like I heard this comment sighed from the lips of one of my children every few days.
It is 2007 and our family is still adjusting to life in Japan.
The weather is humid and unseasonably warm for December, even for Okinawa. Though we are excited to be living in a different country, the reality of the transition isn’t easy.
It doesn’t feel like Christmas, but the calendar begins the countdown of December days. My ten-year-old bursts through the front door with a wail, “Mom, I heard they are not getting any Christmas trees at the Exchange this Christmas! Something happened to the shipment.”
Normally this news would not be a big deal, but this year is different.
There’s no place like home.
This year we are still getting settled in unfamiliar territory, and this year Dad is deploying right after Christmas. With a 4,000-pound weight limit for household goods, Christmas decorations didn’t make the packing list. We assumed we could buy a tree in Japan.
The ache of unfamiliarity hangs heavy. This is our first move with teenagers who have an iron grip on their friends “back home.” Our cement-block-typhoon-ready base house doesn’t yet look or feel like home. Not having a Christmas tree isn’t going to help anyone feel we are “home” for the holidays.
A few days later, my friend Cathy asks my girl, “What do you want for Christmas?”
My heart sinks as my daughter responds with a telltale tremor in her voice, “All I want is a Christmas tree.”
I worry about how to make Christmas special in a new place so far from family. Prayerfully I ask God, “Please help my kids get settled. How can I make this place feel like home this Christmas?”
Celebrating Christmas in New Places
The heart of Christmas is not in the decorations and festivities–I know this. Yet there is a certain feel to the atmosphere and ambiance that we have become accustomed to. Balmy beach days don’t feel like Christmas when we are used to the crisp, cold air of Virginia. My kids lament Facebook posts showing it is already snowing “back home,” even as we are heading to the beach for the afternoon.
It just doesn’t seem like Christmas…
The cherished rituals of celebrating Christmas are not limited to decorations or addresses. Even before Christmas arrives, the familiar routines of baking cookies and practicing for the school concerts are getting us in a more positive outlook.
I talk with my kids about how Christmas will be a little different this year, “but we can enjoy exploring new places and customs.” Sipping hot cocoa one afternoon, my youngest is cutting out snowflakes as we chat about the true meaning of Christmas.
I think I’m making headway with the whole Christmas-in-a-new-place thing.
“The baby Jesus is the most important thing about Christmas,” this sweet one chirps as she snips bits of white paper that litter the floor.
“But I still want a Christmas tree.”
“It won’t feel Christmas-y without one.”
I take a deep breath and put on my peppiest Mom voice, “We don’t need a tree, we will still celebrate Christmas with many of our family traditions we enjoy each year. Maybe you don’t feel like this place is home yet, but we can make a home for Christ in our hearts wherever we go.”
As December days pass, each one bringing us closer to Christmas, we enjoy many of the things we usually do at Christmas—some festive and others sacred.
Until this move, I have never considered the power of family traditions to help create continuity in the midst of changes and transitions that come with military life.
As Christmas approaches, we enjoy as many of our traditions as possible, while adding new things to our celebration. Making gifts, baking cookies, and reading the Christmas story are a few of the activities we enjoy. We invite our single airman neighbor to join us for Christmas.
Each year we play a silly game from my husband’s family, the Christmas Grab Bag. It is a bag filled with small practical and gag gifts and everyone gets to pull out a few items hidden in the bag. This year I have found some unusual gifts like a “nose-ball roller” at the 100-yen store. Surely everyone needs one of these!
We may be wearing flip-flops and eating with chop-sticks, but it’s still Christmas!
Remembering my daughter’s wish, Cathy calls a few days before Christmas. “A new shipment came in and they’re putting trees out at the Exchange. Do you want me to get one for you before they’re gone? They’re going like hot cakes!”
What are your family Christmas traditions? It’s never too soon or too late to try new traditions. Whether you always make a favorite recipe, give Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve, or find an ornament from each duty station, traditions help build memories of special family times.[tweetthis]Familiar traditions help make a foreign place feel more like home.[/tweetthis]
Traditions aren’t the reason for Christmas, but they help us recognize the importance of Christ’s birth. They connect us with days gone by, people we love, and memories yet to be made. Simple or elaborate, traditions can help us make a home wherever the military sends us.[tweetthis]50 Ways to Celebrate Christmas[/tweetthis]
25 Spiritual Traditions
- Celebrate Advent.
- Give gifts of service or time.
- Attend a concert of sacred music.
- Go Christmas caroling.
- Give to those in need.
- Make an Advent Jesse tree.
- Read Christmas scriptures or devotions by candlelight.
- Give a daily gift of encouragement to others.
- Pay kids for chores and put money in a gift box to use for Angel Tree or Toys for Tots.
- Share the Gospel through the Legend of the Candy Cane.
- Support a missionary or relief organization.
- Draw family names for mystery gifts of service each week in December. Try to guess who had your name.
- Send Christmas cards, Scripture verses, or care packages to deployed military.
- Give a Christian book or devotional to read as a family.
- Create a Christmas memory book of faith.
- Invite single service members to join your family for Christmas.
- Wrap and hide the Baby Jesus from your Nativity. Let kids search for the Baby Jesus as the first or last gift of Christmas.
- Make a birthday cake for Jesus.
- Choose a Christmas verse to pray for each member of the family. Mark it in your Bible to pray throughout the year.
- Commit to practicing kindness daily.
- Attend a Christmas Eve service.
- Act out the Christmas story—dressing up is fun for young kids.
- Choose a few Christmas cards to pray for friends each night at dinner.
- Keep a Christmas journal.
- Write down gifts for Christ, kind comments for family members, or thankful things and place in a white stocking or special box throughout December.
25 Festive Traditions
- Bake Christmas cookies.
- Invite new friends for dinner and a gingerbread house competition.
- Invite the deployed military families to join you for activities or celebrations.
- Establish a Christmas craft night.
- Write Christmas cards.
- Host a gathering.
- Choose an ornament representing each place you live.
- Give or make a yearly ornament for each family member.
- Take a yearly family Christmas photo.
- Visit a Christmas tree farm.
- Establish a special (easy) Christmas breakfast.
- Attend a local Christmas event or explore a new local attraction, making the most of your current duty station.
- “Camp out’ or have a picnic by the Christmas tree.
- Give a yearly family game gift.
- Hang mistletoe and give lots of kisses.
- Display Christmas cards in a special way.
- Drive to see Christmas light displays.
- Play Charades-customize for Christmas or highlights of the year.
- Wear Christmas pajamas.
- Plan a traditional menu.
- Turn off the TV.
- Simplify gift giving: 1 need, 1 want, 1 book.
- Open one gift on Christmas Eve.
- Watch favorite Christmas movies.
- Read The Night Before Christmas.
Help us add to this list by sharing traditions that are meaningful to your family in the comment section below!
Ginger Harrington, speaker and publishing coordinator for Planting Roots, writes at her award-winning website GingerHarrington.com Enjoy Ginger’s Christmas Corner page for a variety of Christmas posts. She has also written military themed posts for Guideposts Military Blog and (in)courage. Ginger and her retired Marine husband have enjoyed twenty-four years of military life and are parents to three young adults.