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Camo Christmas Memories

Monday, December 07, 2015

The colors of the season are all around us, and even began to appear well before the start of this festive month. The greens of holly and pine and the bright red of ribbons are accented by twinkling lights or silver and gold trimming. Like most of you, I grew up excited to see the arrival of these traditional signs of the holidays and eagerly anticipated all the family preparations that followed. But 30 years of Army life introduced new colors and traditions to my celebrations.

The green of Christmas was now the shade of my soldier’s olive drab Class As, then BDUs and ACUs, because he always seemed to be wearing a uniform in holiday family pictures. Our Santas soon had to sport the same colors. Bright red was joined by blue and white because I couldn’t resist throwing in some patriotic decorations to our holiday displays.

I learned that Christmas didn’t always have to be white. You can have a lot of fun celebrating the day in the December warmth of Fort Hood or Fort Polk. Prickly pear cactus or glossy magnolia leaves have their own holiday charm. The ruby red of German gluhwein and golden brown of sugared nuts became welcome—and tasty—additions to my holiday color scheme.

Perhaps the most difficult shade I had to add to our decorations was yellow, especially the tiny wooden ribbon that hung from the top of our tree during my soldier’s deployments and again for our son’s. It graces our tree every year in recognition of all our service members who are away from their families during the holidays.

While each assignment may have brought new colors to our “Camo Christmas,” one thing stayed constant. It wasn’t the place or house or the tinsel that made the holiday, it was my soldier and me and our three children who created the joy wherever we lived. By embracing the holiday shades that surrounded us where we were stationed and adopting local Christmas activities into our celebrations—visiting Cristkindlmarkts, braving the cold for the Boston Tea Party re-enactment, or standing in the crowd for the Natchitoches, La., boat parade—we made lots of happy Camo Christmas memories.

It can be hard to get into the holiday spirit if you are far from extended family or in a new location where you may not have made friendly connections yet. When your soldier is deployed at this time of year, it can be even harder to find a reason to celebrate. I’ve shared those same blue feelings and it is not the best Christmas color.

To help turn the holiday blues into holiday cheer, you might find inspiration in some of the tactics I’ve used through the years:

  • Reach out to others: Feeling a little lonely in a new duty station? Open your home to a “Help us decorate our tree” party. We used this idea to meet our neighbors several times. We laid out simple snacks, cookies and drinks; put all the ornaments on the dining room table and let everyone have fun hanging decorations on the tree. Though we didn’t ask them to, a few of our neighbors or unit mates brought an ornament to add to our collection. It’s an opportunity to make memories while meeting new friends.
  • Bond with those in similar circumstances: During hubby’s Bosnia deployment while in Germany, I held a mom or dad and kids’ Christmas Eve hot chocolate and cookie afternoon. My little ones were excited to help make the cookies and loved having all their playmates over. Hosting this easy get-together helped me survive our first holiday separation from spouse and turned what could have been a long, sad day into a more cheerful celebration.
  • Try the gift of caring: Getting through two Christmases in a row without Dad was a little harder for all of us during his Iraq deployment. And because my tots were now teenagers, they weren’t as easily distracted from dad’s absence by hot chocolate and cookies—neither was mom. So I added a new tradition to our holiday celebrations.

We had always picked names off the Angel Trees at our installations or donated to Toys for Tots. But instead of just dropping items in a collection box, I thought more involvement might help us focus on the reason for the season and forget for a little while our own disappointments. My teens and I decided to assist with our local Salvation Army Angel Tree program. The kids told me later that it made them feel like Santa Claus, knowing they were helping make Christmas a little nicer for deserving children. The best part was that the work for the Salvation Army lasted until Christmas Eve so my kids stayed too busy to mope. It has become a yearly activity for our family.

There are so many ways you and your family can make a difference for others through the season, and it may ease the burden on your own heart. You can visit your local VA hospital during the holidays; volunteer at a food assistance center; assist with USO holiday events in your military community; adopt a nursing home and bring cheer to those who have no family; or have each family member pick a tag from an Angel Tree. No matter how you choose to volunteer, I can guarantee it will change your outlook, make the holidays a lot brighter, and add memories to your own Camo Christmas experience.

Wishing our big Army family a very Merry Christmas and a heartfelt thank you for your unwavering service to our nation