The Holiday season can be a time that carries mixed emotions for so many of us. As veterans, both in and out of the service, we often experience a wide range of people who live at both ends of the holiday spectrum. There are those who can’t wait to get their decorations up and start pumping holiday tunes through their speaker while wearing velvet reindeer antlers on their head.
Then there are those who cringe at the sight of a Christmas tree and hate the very sound of a single jingle bell. So how do we make it through the holiday season without losing our sanity? Here are three things that we can learn to make dealing with the holidays a little easier.
Learning to Adjust
As a kid, I grew up loving the holiday season. Although my family didn’t have a whole lot, we had each other and my mother always made sure we knew that. We grew up with simple traditions like opening a present on Christmas eve or baking cookies to leave out for Santa Claus that would eventually be eaten by someone who just wanted a child to believe in a dream for just one more year.
As I grew up, and life started to show me the difficult times that many of us face, my view of the holidays started to change. During my time in the military, I spent more than a few holiday seasons away from home and separated from family.
I developed a way of dealing with the holidays that helped me escape the realities of the holiday season. As veterans, the reality of the holidays is that we often do not get to spend time with our families. It means we may not be able to give our children the holidays that we see others giving their children.
And for many of us it means spending time thinking about people that we have served with who cannot be with their families during the holidays. Whether they are deployed or have given the ultimate sacrifice, this is a sobering reminder to many of us that our service comes with a price and often times holiday joy tends to be one of the costs.
Although the holidays can be tough, they don’t have to be a source of frustration for us. Learning to adjust means finding ways to deal with the holidays on your own terms. The frustrations that we think about during the holiday season don’t have to weigh us down forever. After all, even Ebenezer Scrooge eventually found something to smile about during the holidays.
Learning to Celebrate
The holidays can bring up a variety of emotions for many of us. And let’s just be honest, some people can go a bit overboard with holiday cheer, ugly sweaters and jingling bells. But if the holidays aren’t your thing, learning to celebrate the holidays doesn’t mean you have to break out your snowman building kit and Christmas lights and start decorating everything in sight.
It may mean learning to celebrate the holidays in new ways as you figure out what your version of the holidays look like. For me, celebrating the holidays can be difficult because I’m not near people who I would like to celebrate with. So, I find friends and activities such as volunteering that keep me occupied and help me remember that the holidays are bigger than me.
Holiday celebrations may look different to different people, but however they look, make sure you take the time to find a smile at some point during your holiday season.
Learning to be Comfortable
Perhaps the toughest part of celebrating the holidays is finding a way to be comfortable. Sometimes we get used to celebrating holidays in the military by accepting the fact that we are all in similar situations. As I now integrate into life after the military, I am surrounded by people who have established holiday traditions.
I have friends who have never had to deal with the difficulty of being separated from family during the holidays. Many of them do not understand the reason why Veterans struggle with the holidays. Many of them haven’t had to think about how great something simple like making snow angels can really be.
So, at times it is difficult to relate to them and be comfortable in this new life that I live. Then I realize that everyone has their own struggles around the holidays. There are people who get lonely.
There are those who miss family and there are those who cannot afford to buys presents for their children. Whether the holidays are a time of great joy or a time of difficult memories they can always present a unique set of challenges.
One of my challenges was understanding the differences in the holiday habits of my civilian workplace where taking nearly three weeks off is generally frowned upon.
Learning to be comfortable during the holidays can be tough. But it doesn’t have to be. However, you choose to celebrate your holidays, remember to find ways to enjoy yourself. For every difficult memory, there’s a great one waiting to be created. Happy Holidays!
Jamaal Wheaton is an Army Veteran with over 12 years of Active Duty service. He is the Founder and Owner of the Wheaton Group, a Public Relations firm that specializes in being a voice for Veteran and Military related issues. Jamaal currently works as a Government Contractor for the Federal Government and shares his personal experience of transition with the hopes of helping others navigate the through their own transition.