The Holidays are filled with so many traditions that create the nostalgia we all feel every year. For me, one of the biggest traditions that my family takes joy in each season, is the cutting down of a real Christmas tree. My mom has photos of me barely one, stuffed in this one-piece snow suit. I looked like Randy, the little brother from A Christmas Story. Except this was the nineties, so picture that but with neon colors. The weekend after Thanksgiving was when we would take part in what really kicked the Christmas season off for us.
Originally from Iowa, it would be freezing, sometimes snowing, but that only made the adventure more fun. It always took hours to find the perfect tree, and at times someone might get lost. There would be bickering and laughing along the way, but one thing was always agreed upon when we got home…the tree was too big. For some reason we thought we lived in a house with vaulted ceilings. The reality was probably more like 9-foot ceilings, and we would always have to chop the top off.
As I got older, graduated, and moved away from home, I wasn’t able to partake in the same traditions that I grew up with. Going home for Thanksgiving wasn’t always an option, so I missed out on the tree hunting adventure. I began to make my own traditions which included finding a Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend. I usually had to buy it off a lot, but it was always real and some type of fir tree. This tree was just a placeholder until I got home though. I might not have gotten to partake in cutting down the family tree, but it was always there waiting for me, a little too big, but that was expected.
I relied on getting to go home to make it through the holiday season. I would count down the days until I would be back to my Iowa Christmas, making cookies, and skating at the downtown ice rink. So, during the first year of marriage to my Marine husband, and out on recruiting duty, we realized going home was not an option. I guess I could have gone home to Iowa without him, but I didn’t feel right leaving my husband alone; especially on our first Christmas as a married couple. My family was able to visit us for Thanksgiving, and when they left I decided we were going to start our own traditions together. They left Sunday morning and by Sunday afternoon we were walking through fields of Christmas trees.
I thought I was ready to be an adult and start my own family. I put on my big girl pants and we set off to see if we could find a tree that would fit in our 9 foot ceiling, living room. What I learned that day was the trees in Alabama, where we are currently stationed, are not the same as those in Iowa. There are no fir trees, they don’t grow in the south, and this particular tree farm did not cut their trees to look like a Christmas tree. They were more like Christmas bushes. I tried my hardest to find one that would work, but the more we walked through the lines of trees the more the reality of not going home for Christmas set in.
I realized I couldn’t duplicate Christmas. All the trivial things aside, I wasn’t, for the first time in my life, going to be with my family at such a special time for us. Even if I had found the perfect tree, it was going to be different. So, after a few minutes of crying in my husband’s truck in the parking lot of this tree farm, the sweetie that he is, had found another tree farm not too far away. He calmed me down, and I agreed to see if these trees might work.
At this point I was really ready to throw in the towel and just avoid Christmas that year. It wasn’t going to be the same, and I didn’t want to deal with that. However, when we arrived to the second tree farm my mind began to change. Now these trees were still not what I was used to, but they were cut to look like Christmas trees. They were Leyland Cypress trees and they were beautiful! Suddenly the magic of Christmas came back into my heart, and I was re-energized and excited to find our tree. It didn’t take long to find one and it fit perfectly in the house I might add. We didn’t have cut but only an inch off the bottom when we got home.
After we got the tree up, I shared the photos with my family and we admired how different but beautiful the tree was. It was then that I really started to own my new life and the small sacrifices that I was going to have to make. My husband is part of my family now and he needed me in the south with him. Being a military spouse can be challenging when you are torn between two worlds. Being in the military in any capacity is a challenge when the job takes you away from those that you love.
When I signed into this life of a military spouse I knew we would have the moves and be sent to places that I was unfamiliar with. I knew my husband would not always be with me for the important moments. What I didn’t realize was how little traditions would be impacted. I took something like a Christmas tree for granted and realized that you don’t have access to the same things everywhere. It was really hard being away that first year, but I began to appreciate this time of year in such a different way. My husband and I have now created a few of our own traditions. I appreciate the time with my family so much more and look forward to the benefits of seeing them at other times of the year. The next time we do get to go home for Christmas, all of the little things are going to seem so much bigger and the nostalgia of them are going to be a lot of fun.
It’s hard if you are in the military and not able to go home or deployed. It’s hard if you are a spouse or parent and aren’t able to see your military member. There are so many scenarios that people, in this military life, go through during this time of year. It might be hard to be alone right now, but we get a special gift that others don’t get. We experience the world a little differently from everyone else, and in turn I think it makes us appreciate things a little more. We know that time is limited and every second counts. Life is definitely different in the military, but when you decide to roll with the punches and embrace the situation you are in, you can begin to see the beauty in what makes it different.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas! I hope you are surrounded with love and good memories this holiday season!
Feature image courtesy of Col. Richard Goldenberg, U.S. Army National Guard