Holiday Traditions that Military Families Carry From Duty Station to Duty Station

Living throughout the world leads to many unique traditions, and military families know this better than most. Rather than the same-old holiday trends they knew as kids, they grew up to experience the world. This means learning how other cultures celebrate, collecting their goodies, and trying their seasonal holiday recipes. 

Best of all is that once your military family finds a new holiday tradition, it doesn’t have to stay at that duty station; you can bring it with you. Over the years (and with each PCS), this makes your traditions that much more special. It helps make your family’s memories unique. 

Celebrate the different cultures where you’ve lived and bring your favorite traditions with you, no matter where you’re currently stationed.  

Take a look at these worldwide traditions that have been brought back by military families across all branches and check out your favorites. 

I found these articles/blogs that could provide inspiration for you: 

Your Own Holiday Traditions

First things first, just because you are starting new traditions doesn’t mean you have to stop the oldies. Continuing them from year to year is what makes them fun! Some of the most common U.S. traditions include: getting a new ornament each year, matching family jammies, holiday cards, decorating for the season, and touring lights. 

Other lesser-known traditions may be “planting” candy canes and watching them “grow,” Elf on the Shelf, hiding a pickle ornament, and so on.

Plus, each family has its own traditions that are unique to them. 

Local Ornaments to Commemorate Each Duty Station

If you enjoy collecting ornaments, here’s a twist: get an ornament that’s local to your duty station. You can get something that’s unique to your state, or a traditional shape to your country when stationed OCONUS. This is a great way to remember where you lived throughout each year. You can even write the name and year on the bottom/back so you can reminisce each time you unpack the holiday decor. 

Traditions Through Deployment

It can be harder to celebrate the holidays while a loved one is away. However, with a little creativity, it can still be done. For instance, taking separate pictures and adjoining them for a holiday card. You can ship a care package and open gifts via video call or watch a movie while on the phone. Or, add a game in their care package and play together while miles apart. This is a great way to adapt your “normal” family game night, even while your service member is somewhere else. While it’s not as good as having your service member there in person, this is the next best thing. Make your virtual time with them count, especially around the holidays. 

Even during years when no one is deployed, you may be far away from friends and family members. You can still celebrate these same traditions with grandparents, cousins, and more. It’s a way to keep the magic of the holidays alive while still being able to spend time with loved ones. 

Really, anything you normally do as a family you can plan to do virtually. Cooking favorite dishes (then eating them), decorating cookies, completing a craft, etc. 

Overseas to Back Home

There are a number of traditions that you will pick up along the way, including those from new duty stations. For instance, citizens of Japan eat at Kentucky Friend Chicken on Christmas Day. Many military families have brought this back home – or at least opting for KFC within a day or two of Christmas – in order to celebrate their time in Japan. 

European countries have children leave out their boots on St. Nicholas day, which is celebrated on December 6th). Those who were good receive candy. (Naughty list recipients get rotten potatoes, yuck!) They may also eat figgy pudding – just like the poem – host a dinner with neighbors, or keep a Christmas spider on the tree. Yes, we said spider; anyone who has been stationed in Europe may have one of their own. 

Germany is known for its famous holiday foods like stollen, rum balls, or seasoned duck. They’re so well-loved in the states that they can be found seasonally in many U.S. stores. 

The holidays are a special time for family, and the traditions that you hone in on over the years will become near and dear to your heart. Consider choosing the best and favorites, no matter where you live or have lived, to preserve the memories from each location. 

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Madison Santamaria

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