Updated November 28, 2022

You always see both sides of the coin when it comes to military family holidays. In many ways, they’re happy and festive, but they can also be stressful and sad at the same time. All around the world, there are hundreds of thousands of military families spending the holidays away from some of their dearest loved ones, making it a bittersweet time of year.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get into the holiday spirit and make some fun memories along the way. Here are 10 great holiday activities that military families can enjoy together to help celebrate.

1. Start a “Joy Jar”

You may have heard of deployment candy jars, which contain a piece of candy for each day the child’s parent is deployed. Once the jar is empty, their parent will be home from deployment. It’s essentially a fun visual to help the child count down the days until they’re reunited with their parent.

Here’s a fun holiday twist: Instead of candy, have your kids write or sketch something that brings them joy on a small piece of paper. Have them make one for each of the days leading up to Christmas. Then on Christmas Day, bring out all the paper slips and read them together as a reminder of how much there is to be grateful for as you celebrate the holidays.

2. Buy (or Make!) a New Christmas Ornament Every Year

As a military family, it’s not uncommon to spend Christmases in new places — why not commemorate your time together in each one with a festive ornament? This can create plenty of memories and opportunities for fun holiday activities.

Some ideas include buying a new ornament every year representing where you’ve lived, or you can have a craft night with the kids and make custom ornaments to remember the year you’ve shared. You can also check out any nearby paint-your-own pottery businesses to make your own!

3. Host a Virtual Holiday Party

Who says military family holidays can’t include long-distance loved ones? Embrace modern technology that allows you to keep in touch with people all across the globe by throwing a virtual holiday party.

Set a date, and time and invite all the friends and family you would normally want at a party of yours to enjoy a meal together, play games, sing songs, or participate in other virtual holiday activities. Many of the popular video chat programs are free, and you may be surprised at how much fun you can have even if you aren’t all able to be in the same location.

4. Gift Recordable Storybooks

This is a wonderful way to keep distant grandparents or aunts and uncles included in your family traditions, especially if you have younger children.

Family members can purchase a recordable book, then read the story in their voice and send it to the kids so holiday tales can be enjoyed with a personal narrator. Cali’s Books sell these online and offer 15% off for active military and Veterans. You can also find them from stores like Hallmark or Amazon.

5. Drive Through Neighborhood Light Displays

This is such a fun, low-cost holiday tradition to include in your military family’s holiday festivities. Hop in the car, and drive through some nearby neighborhoods to marvel at the beautiful displays of   Christmas lights and decorations that seem to get more impressive every year!

Try researching which areas near your home tend to have the best holiday light displays. To make it extra fun, consider bringing along some snacks and playing holiday music as you drive. With so many gorgeous lights, this is an activity that feels magical to the whole family!

6. Recreate Your Favorite Traditions from Home

Just because you aren’t home for the holidays doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate them to the fullest. Think about the things you loved most about the holidays when you were a child: Were there any special movies you watched or foods you ate? You can also include the classics, like hanging stockings with loved ones who are still local. Tradition can help make a difficult separation during the holiday season a lot merrier.

7. Let Your Kids Come Up with a Tradition

While holiday activities like visiting Santa at the mall to have your family’s photo taken might be fun for you, make sure you ask your kids if there’s anything fun they’d like to make part of the holidays. Maybe they want to have an indoor camping night in the living room, stay up super late watching Christmas movies, or have a disco party. Let them get creative!

If you’re spending the holidays in a warm location like the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam or Fort Shaffer, try looking up some local traditions to try out. You can also try adapting some of your cold-weather traditions to warm weather, like substituting a snowman for a sandman. Even if you aren’t very successful at it, it will be a funny memory to share!

8. Assemble Care Packages

Whether your Military Spouse is deployed or not, assembling care packages for other servicemembers who are deployed for the holidays can be a great way to add some joy to the holiday season. Send some of your favorite goodies and gifts to share the Christmas cheer with those who can’t spend their holidays with loved ones. The Joy Jar previously mentioned on this list would be an especially heart-warming addition to the care package.

9. Go Ice Skating

There are few things quite as festive as ice skating, so if you’re looking for some holiday activities that are active and festive, make sure you make some time for this one.

Find a rink near you, call ahead to see if reservations are required, and double-check their rules to ensure you’re keeping yourself and others safe. Enjoy an afternoon or evening of family ice skating and don’t forget to drink hot cocoa to warm up afterward!

10. Don’t Miss All the Christmas Movies

You can bet that everyone in your family has their own favorite Christmas movie. Instead of bickering about which one you’ll watch, pop some popcorn, pour some egg nog or cocoa, and get ready to watch them all as you celebrate the holidays. If you’re a planner, then consider creating your very own family movie schedule throughout December.

What are your plans for the holiday season this year? Tell us how your MilFam is safely celebrating the holidays this year on our Facebook page!

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