When you think of the holidays, what comes to mind? Chances are it has something to do with your favorite traditions. If it’s your first year celebrating the holidays in the military or at a new duty station, it can be a great time to start some new ones!
The holidays are a time for love, laughter, giving and lots of fun. It’s also a great time to start up some new, special military holiday traditions that everyone can look forward to year after year.
Whether that means a great, big family dinner, or just running outside to create snow angels in freshly fallen snow, holiday traditions really include some of the most beautiful moments in life.
This year, consider thinking outside the box. In this post, we’ve written about holiday traditions to start with your own military families this holiday season. Some are wacky, while others are a bit more sentimental, but they’re all a good time.
We hope you find something that your family and friends love!
1. Buy and hang a new Christmas ornament every year
Every year, buy your child an ornament to hang on your beloved Christmas tree. And because military families move around so much, they have the advantage of getting really unique ornaments from each place they live!
Once your kids are ready to move out, collect all the ornaments to pass them out so they can hang them on their own trees for many years to come. Once they have a family of their own, they can start the tradition over with their kids one day.
2. Give back!
Do you have any time, money or other resources to spare this month? Consider volunteering this holiday season. It lifts up those you help, and it makes you feel good in the process. It’s also a great way to bond with your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors alike!
Not sure where to start looking for volunteer opportunities? Your local animal shelters, library, humane society, soup kitchen or food bank are all great places to start. Check out VolunteerMatch.Org to find your perfect philanthropic fit.
If you want to support fellow deployed service members, consider Soldiers’ Angels where you can adopt a soldier. Become an “angel” for a soldier until they come home by sending at least a letter a week and a care package once a month.
3. “Plant” candy cane seeds
Take the kids outside to “plant” candy cane tree “seeds.” Bring a bag of standard round, red-and-white peppermints to plant in the ground — unwrapped, of course. After the kids go to bed, go back to the seeds and stick some candy canes into the dirt. In the morning, they’ll be shocked when they see that their peppermint seeds grew into candy canes overnight! If you have any skeptics in your household, you can tell your kids that Santa’s elves sprinkled some magic Christmas dust on the seeds to help the candy canes grow.
4. Visit U-cut tree farms
There’s something about walking among Christmas trees that feels magical. The pine smell, the beautiful deep green colors… it just smells…Christmas-y! For couples and families alike, going out to the local Christmas tree farm to hand-select your tree for the year creates heartwarming memories, not to mention great photo opportunities that’ll last a lifetime. Many of the farms are known to provide hot cocoa, hay rides and cute little crafts to purchase, in addition to the perfect tree for your living space.
Bonus points if you manage to get your service member to show up to the farm in uniform! Again, just think about the photo opps…
5. Hide a gift
On Christmas Eve night, hide a small gift among the branches of a Christmas tree. It can be something simple, like a picture frame, candy, etc., that is easy to discreetly place in the tree. The next morning, have everybody take turns finding their present. Even if you don’t find your own, everyone can trade once all have had their turn.
This creates a simple, yet sweet, tradition for kids to look forward to the night before Christmas. The same can be done during the Hanukkah celebration, except parents can hide little gifts around the house, or close to Hanukkah decorations.
6. Festive photo shoot
Grab any holiday-themed props that you or your neighbors may have laying around, and have fun with selfies or self-timer mode on your phone or camera! Holiday traditions that involve photos are especially great for military families to help you remember where you spent each Christmas and with who. Here are some ideas to help get you started:
- Reindeer ears and flashing noses
- Santa hats
- Tinsel “boas”
- …or even Christmas lights
You can also have props laid out and do successive “blast” shots for some funny, candid pictures.
Looking for a “challenge?” Post the results from your shoot on Facebook or Instagram, if you’re brave enough!
7. Cookie exchange
Ask your circle of friends or co-workers if they’d like to do a holiday cookie exchange. Or, if you live on base, ask your neighbors. It’s a good way to connect and share favorite cookie recipes while getting in the holiday spirit.
For bake day: Round up the kids — or roomies! — in the kitchen for a cookie assembly line. Rolling out dough and using cookie cutters are great tasks for older kids, and anyone can join in on decorating once the cookies have cooled. Once they’re ready, each participant can select the cookies they’d like to keep for themselves, or bundle some up in festive holiday mugs and cellophane to give as gifts. Just try not to eat them all at once!
8. White elephant with a twist
Pick a theme each year — it can be hats, books or shirts, etc. — and a budget. The goal is to find the wackiest gifts within the theme to exchange. Everyone wraps the gifts and then picks a number to find out what order to choose their present. The first person selects a gift, and unwraps it. Upon the next player’s turn, they can either “steal” the previously opened present or select a wrapped one. Each gift can only be stolen once.
9. Open PJs on Christmas Eve
If you just can’t wait until Christmas to open a gift, this one is a perfect option. Matching flannel pajamas (or other festive PJs) are always in abundance in stores around this time of year. Get a whole set for the family to wear on Christmas Day when opening gifts — from baby to great granny. It makes for a great photo opp as well. If you’re in a family of readers, include a novel for adults and a picture book for kids with each jammie set.
10. Make Santa pancakes
Not sure what to make for Christmas morning breakfast? Bust out the pancake batter and create a fluffy canvas for everyone to make their own Santa face. Be sure to have whipped cream, chocolate chips and strawberries on hand for decorating. Bonus points if you can make Mrs. Claus, too!
Which of these traditions do you like best? What are some of your own favorite military holiday traditions? Share in the comments below!