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Celebrating the holidays overseas? It might be different, but it can still be great

Celebrating the holidays overseas this year? While it will be different than your normal celebrations, …


Celebrating the holidays overseas this year? While it will be different than your normal celebrations, you also have unique opportunities you’d never get to experience if you were stationed back in the United States. Holidays are a special time for U.S. troops both abroad and at home.

If you’re stationed overseas this year, take the time to liven up your traditions with new cultural experiences. But you don’t have to completely give up your beloved traditions, either. You may just have to get a little creative.

There’s no place like home/ for the holidays, but there’s also no experience like introducing new cultures to your own favorite traditions and vice versa. Ready to get your holiday festivities going? Here’s a look at how you can make it feel like you’re home for the holidays — even when you’re at an overseas duty station — and how to fold new traditions into old ones.

Celebrating the Holidays at an Overseas Duty Station

Intertwining your traditions with local traditions can be a new and eye-opening way to celebrate the holidays overseas. Being away from home may be a challenge, but it also brings the reward of experiencing a new culture. With a little planning ahead, you can create that warm holiday feeling with a unique twist. Here’s how you can celebrate in old and new ways:

Honor Your Traditions

Marine with Christmas Tree
(Image courtesy of Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Laura Hoover, US Navy. Cropped)

Even if you’re far from home, you can still bring your traditions to an overseas duty station during the holidays. Preserve your favorite traditions by honoring them and even sharing them with new friends you’ve met in your new country. Here’s how:

Play holiday tunes. Nothing will get you into the holiday spirit faster than playing your favorite holiday music. Create a holiday playlist and play it to your heart’s content.

Ask for home reminders. Does your mom make the best butter cookies? Or maybe your sister always makes the best holiday dinner playlists. Ask your family members to send your favorite holiday traditions to you, if possible.

Calling home
(Image courtesy of Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class K. H. Anderson, US Navy)

Say hello on the actual holidays. Long-distance calls can be expensive, but they are so worth it when celebrating a holiday overseas. Even if you just get to hear the voices of your loved ones for a few minutes, it can lift your spirits. The WhatsApp is a great way to stay connected for free, too. Use your favorite technology to phone home, and it will remind you that home is only a phone call away.

Decorate. If you love to decorate your home to the nines during the holiday season, there’s no reason you can’t do it at your overseas duty station. As long as you shipped your holiday decor, you can decorate to your heart’s content. Do it alone, invite fellow service members over, or spend the day doing it with your family.

Decorating the Christmas tree
(Image courtesy of Tech Sgt. Rey Ramon, US Air Force)

Shop early. Can’t live without your cranberry sauce during Christmas dinner? Start shopping now for your favorite meal staples at the military exchange or local stores. If you can’t find it, ask a family member to send it or see if you can find it online and get it shipped.

Make your own tree. If you can’t find your standard Douglas fir in your host country, you might have to get a little creative. Check out the Tip Junkie blog for creative wall Christmas tree ideas!

Gather together. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another holiday, what matters is you’re spending time with others who bring you joy. Gather for a meal with your fellow service members or family to create a special memory in your overseas duty station you won’t forget.

Create New Traditions

Sometimes one of the best ways to create special, new traditions is to be outside your comfort zone. By being open to learning about your country’s local culture, you may discover a life-long tradition you’ll want to incorporate into future holiday celebrations! A few ways to start new ones:

Join a Meetup. If you don’t want to be alone for the holidays, head to to see what holiday parties are going on. You can meet up with fellow Americans or locals for food gatherings, holiday music events, and more in your host country. Don’t see one for your area? Start one!

Christmas party
(Image courtesy of Airman 1st Class Madelyn Ottem, US Air Force)

Take in the quiet (or not-so-quiet) streets. If your host country celebrates any holidays during December, you’ll probably get a taste of it just by wandering the streets. If it’s safe to do so, head outside your base to explore the streets. If everything is closed, it will give you a chance to reflect and be alone.

Learn about local holiday traditions. All alone for the holiday? Go out and see what festivities are happening in your local area. Experiencing the culture is one of the best parts of celebrating a holiday overseas!

Name that tune. Having a holiday party? Invite locals and friends over to play a round or two of “Fill in the Holiday Song Lyrics” game. Offer a prize for the most ridiculous misheard and incorrect song lyrics.

Decorating a tree together
(Image courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps)

Invite new friends to your celebrations. One of the best ways to learn about the diversity of your host country is to invite locals to celebrate with you. Swap stories of favorite holiday traditions. Doing so will guarantee you have plenty to talk about over dinner.

Host other military families. If you can’t be near your own family for the holidays, you might as well create your own family. Invite your closest service member friends and families to your place for a holiday meal. Ask them to bring their favorite family dishes along with a recipe card to share.

A lit menorah
(Image courtesy of the Dept. of Defense)

Travel. If you’re in a foreign country, take advantage of travel opportunities if you have leave time built up. You may never get the chance to explore nearby countries again. Hop on a train or rent a car to take off for a few days to see historic sites, museums, galleries, and local culture up close and personal.

Enjoy the Overseas Duty Station Holiday Experience

Your overseas duty station won’t be your home forever. Even if you’re hardcore missing your family and friends back home, just know they’re only a phone call away.

If you look, the beauty of your current country and culture is right in front of you, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity while you can. Plus, expanding your traditions via local culture can enhance your holidays now and for years to come.

Completely at a loss for how to navigate your new overseas duty station? Be sure to connect with fellow service members along with making a pit stop at your Military and Family Support Center. They’ll get you feeling settled in no time.

From all of us here at Sandboxx, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season no matter where you’re stationed in the world!

What are your favorite holiday traditions? Share in the comments below! Dealing with a holiday deployment? Don’t forget to check out our How to Get Through Holiday Deployments post.

(Feature image courtesy of Staff Sgt. Megan Floyd, U.S. Air National Guard)

The editorial team at Sandboxx.