Festivus for the rest of us! As the iconic sitcom Seinfeld demonstrates, the holidays can be a great time for family and friends to get together and celebrate, even in a nontraditional, nonreligious alternative fashion. Due to the diverse group of Soldiers who make up the Army, though, many do not or cannot partake in these gatherings. Going against these social norms can increase loneliness and depression. And while it is a misconception that death by suicide increases during the holidays, to avoid isolation, service members should consider creating their own traditions.
The Army provides many ways to do this. “The Fort Drum BOSS program has daily activities and programs to keep Soldiers busy and help them connect to others throughout the holidays,” Bill Van Orman, manager of the Suicide Prevention Program at Fort Drum, New York, says. There are plenty of opportunities out there. What’s important is finding what works for you. Here are a few options.
Grab all your battle buddies who are away from home, who don’t celebrate the usual festivities or who are on a budget, and just spend time together. Put on some music, talk about your day or play video games. Turn that silent night into a Soldiers night!
Being away from loved ones can be tough, so volunteering somewhere, like at a local food bank, can get you out of the barracks and enable you to help those in need. Serving the community helps you stay connected and gives you a sense of purpose. Make it a yearly event.
If you’re more of an introvert or just prefer to be away from crowds, stay in and chat on an online forum. Find others who share the same hobbies. You never know whom you may end up socializing with. It could be a onetime thing or turn into an annual get-together.
However you decide to spend the holidays, be sure to check on your fellow Soldiers. As Van Orman notes, “Returning from opportunity leave can also be depressing for Soldiers and their Families as they leave home to return to their installation.” Remember that the Military Crisis Line is available 24/7; dial 988 and press 1.
When you find yourself not in the typical holiday scenario, don’t dwell on it alone. Either get out and find others with similar interests or connect online. Have fun socializing, and maybe create your own annual theme. If you happen to find a Festivus metal pole that matches the bunk, nab it—it makes a great holiday accessory!