By Rachel Parks, III Corps and Fort Hood Public AffairsDecember 21, 2011
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Rachel Parks is the leisure editor of the Fort Hood Sentinel. Her weekly column, "Traveling Soldier," provides a look at leisure activities in Central Texas. This is her holiday submission for 2011.)
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Each week, I travel around Central Texas and explore museums, natural sites and historic locales. But with Christmas on Sunday, I decided to keep things close to home and write about some of the traditions, decorations and atmosphere of a typical holiday season for a military Family.
I'm sure many Families at Fort Hood and the surrounding communities have their own holiday traditions and celebrations. I know every year the trees take center stage at my home, including one very old, very silver tinsel tree that once belonged to my grandmother. It always sits somewhere prominent, in all its 1960s glory, complete with chipped, vintage ornaments, and it reminds me of my Family, no matter where in the world I find myself.
Family is the most important thing at the Siegrist home, as well. Trish Siegrist graciously welcomed me into her Fort Hood home for this story and spoke to me about her decorations, traditions and how her Family is dealing with a separation this year, as her husband, Lt. Col. Jeremy Siegrist, is currently deployed with the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division in Afghanistan.
Like many military Families who are missing a loved one this season, Trish said the Family traditions play an important role in keeping things as normal as possible in the house.
She said over the years, the Family, which includes Dylan, 15; Lilly, 10; Carson, 8; and Zaden, 6, have collected Christmas decorations and memories from around the world. Their Christmas tree in the Family room is a prime example.
"Every ornament on our tree has meaning behind them," Trish said. There are ornaments bearing the names of posts where the Family has been stationed, tiny metal cars the Family collected on a Christmas trip to Thailand when they were living in Korea and personalized ornaments bearing the name of each child.
She added that one of the most important Family traditions is also the simplest, and it centers on the Christmas tree topper.
"Every year the kids rotate through putting the angel on the tree," she said.
Normally, their father lifts the younger children up to reach the top, but this year Dylan stepped into that role.
"I was so proud of him because he was able to do that," Trish said, smiling as tears welled up in her eyes. "But it was bittersweet because it was his dad picking him up not long ago, and he sort of stepped up into that role."
In addition to the main Family tree, each child has a mini tree in their bedrooms, which they decorate in their own individual style. But the trees are just part of the decorations, which include a mixture of children's crafts from school, Santa figurines and mini sleighs, tinsel and garland, and Christmas cards sent from friends and relatives.
Trish said to up the festivity factor in the house, she uses wrapping paper to cover the photos and pictures hanging on the walls.
"I always wrap most of the prints on the wall," she explained. "It's just something cheap, easy and fun, and it makes your house look festive."
In one hallway, she topped photos of the children with Santa hats. Trish said decorating doesn't have to be particularly expensive, it just has to make the individual or Family happy. Outside the Family home, she has a tree dedicated to America's First Team, with black and gold ornaments.
She also admitted that she someday wants to light up a neighborhood with an over-the-top outdoor light show.
"My goal is one day to have the gaudiest Christmas house on the block," she said with a laugh. "It's actually on my husband's and my bucket list -- but with those instrumental light displays that are set to music now, I don't know if we'll ever be able to top that."
This year, to spread the Christmas joy, the Family sent Christmas decorations to their father in Afghanistan, so he could decorate his office. Trish and the rest of the battalion Family readiness groups also spearheaded an effort to send 1,200 stockings to Afghanistan, to make sure each Soldier deployed with the battalion could have one if they wanted.
"Christmas is just fun," Trish said. "I love the giving spirit."
She said there's no magic secret behind the holiday joy in her home, she just tries to make the season special for the people who matter most to her.
"You have to make the holiday your own," she added. "For us, that means being together as a Family. But I would tell people to just create their own traditions, and make whatever you do your own."
She said this year the Family at Fort Hood plans to spend the day together unwrapping presents and watching Christmas movies, and she hopes a decent internet connection in Afghanistan will allow the children to have a chance to Skype with their father. The Family doesn't travel for Christmas, although she admits they did break that rule once while stationed in Korea, so they could spend the holiday together on a beach in Thailand.
"Another Family tradition that we started when Dylan was born was we stopped traveling for Christmas," Trish said. "We invite people to our house … but that's been our tradition. Every year, we stay home for Christmas. We've had housefuls and we've had years where it's been just us."
All the Siegrist children said they are looking forward to the upcoming holiday, and they have a few presents they would like to see under the tree, but most of all, they hope the next few months pass quickly so their father can return home.
"I miss you and wish you were here," Carson said, addressing his father, while running around the house in a hat with elf ears.
"Good luck with the war, and Merry Christmas, Daddy," Lilly chimed in.
"We've missed him terribly," Trish said, "but we just try to stay busy. We're really looking forward to hanging out, playing games and spending time together this Christmas."