By Valerie Collins (Leonard Wood)November 22, 2017
The holiday season is a time people generally spend with family. Many military families find themselves having to redefine the word "family" as they are often stationed far from their own.
For some, being on a military post during the holiday is a humbling experience. Some spend time giving back through volunteer work or by opening their homes to service members and their families who would otherwise be alone.
Any military spouse will tell you that the holidays are not the same everywhere.
A group of Fort Leonard Wood military family members recently met with GUIDON staff to share more about their holiday traditions.
Focusing on the children seemed to be a common theme.
Kim Burke, military spouse, said she focuses on her children over Thanksgiving by doing crafts and different activities because they don't get to have their extended family around.
Keoni Akaka-Reis Sr., military spouse, added that to keep family close, he tries to keep the meals at each holiday as close to what he and his wife had growing up. He also likes to meet new people and open his home to those who do not have a place to go and make it a "friends Thanksgiving."
A popular tradition among military families is holiday potlucks. Often a group of families from the same street or same unit gather together in one place or home to enjoy the traditional feasts that accompany each holiday. Some families get together and prepare holiday meals for service members who are working through the holiday. One participant said gate guards always enjoy receiving holiday goodies.
For some military family members, learning to cook the traditional foods like "grandma" made them can be a task.
Sally Beck, military spouse, recalls being in Germany over the holidays. Her family arrived in October so there was not much time to make friends. This was the first year that Beck had to make a turkey.
"No one told me how long the turkey had to thaw for," Beck said, "so our first (holiday) without family was hard (not just) because we didn't have family around, but also because we had spaghetti."
As newlyweds stationed in Hawaii, Akaka-Reis and his wife decided to try doing their own Thanksgiving meal. Before this, he had never cooked a turkey. During the months leading up to Thanksgiving, he said he would buy small chickens to practice on so he could cook the turkey and not mess it up.
Creating new traditions is often a valued tradition for military families and can make each holiday fun. Creating a home away from home is something military families often become skilled at.
Some spouses say their tradition for the holidays is to make a new tradition at each duty station.
A common saying among spouses is the military lifestyle is what you make of it. The families and the service members they accompany from post to post are connected in a way that makes for a very large extended family. Burke said being on a military installation around the holidays is a unique experience which defines what it means to come together. The giving spirit is strong this time of year and is something military families are accustomed to being part of, she added.