No one who isn’t personally experiencing it can fully understand the confusing mixture of emotions that holidays bring for military members, spouses, and families. This flurry of festivity can be both joyous and heartbreaking. Anyone celebrating the holidays far away from their family, friends, and other loved ones understands how bittersweet the season between November and January can be.

If you’re looking for ways to bring some love and good tidings into your holiday season, then here are 10 ways to celebrate Thanksgiving while living on a military base. 

1. Stay Flexible

“Flexibility” and “military” don’t seem to be words that go together, but anyone living on a military base over a holiday understands the connection. If you’re searching for ways to celebrate Thanksgiving in your current base home, then take a deep breath and free yourself of any harsh expectations you have. Stay flexible. Embrace the season you’re in for what it is. Not everything will be like it used to be when you were a kid or living in a house closer to family… and that’s okay. Even if nothing goes to plan, it’s going to be alright.

2. Focus on Gratitude

As you collect new ways to celebrate Thanksgiving, never forget the original meaning of the holiday: gratitude. Thankfulness will pull you through far more low moods and difficulties than you realize. Be thankful for a roof over your head, running water, and a warm home. Feel free to miss family, friends, and old traditions, but remember how blessed you are to have the things you have.

3. Start Your Own Traditions

Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the way things used to be or what we’re used to having on holidays that we forget how free we are to create our own traditions. Living on a military base shouldn’t ruin Thanksgiving for you. Instead, let it be an opportunity to get creative and shed any Thanksgiving traditions you don’t enjoy. Start your own traditions and incorporate activities, try new recipes, and habits you thoroughly enjoy. (And yes, this means that if you don’t like cooking a turkey, you don’t have to.)

4. Join Existing Celebrations

Living in base housing can provide many challenges, but one of the clear benefits it offers is a tight community. There are plenty of other people going through similar experiences as you on a military base. Sometimes there may be holiday events, parties, or celebrations you can join. Check with your neighbors to see what they have planned and ask if you can join in. They’ve experienced what you’re going through now, and will probably welcome you with open arms.

5. Thanksgiving Picnic 

A great way to get the kids involved is to host a Thanksgiving picnic. Pack turkey sandwiches, french fries, and any other easy Thanksgiving recipes. Spread out a blanket, bring some lawn games and enjoy the outdoors. This may be refreshing since you won’t have everyone crowded around a table with piles of food. Feel free to relax, play games, or just talk and share stories.

6. No Turkey, No Problem 

There are many things we all associate with Thanksgiving, and turkey is perhaps the main one. Believe it or not, you don’t need a turkey to properly celebrate Thanksgiving. If you can’t find a turkey, if turkeys are too expensive, or if you don’t have the kitchen space to cook a full turkey dinner, simply don’t worry about it. A roast chicken or a completely different meal will suffice.

7. Invite Local Veterans

A good way to get your mind off all the things you feel like you’re missing is to invite some people over to share the meal. Find local Veterans and invite them over to your home for the holiday. Hear their stories, give them a hearty meal, and then enjoy how good it feels to share a warm evening with people who need it.

8. Host Single Servicemembers

If you feel like extending more invitations, you can let any single servicemembers on base come to your holiday dinner. Many of them are likely missing their families and home. Without your invitation, they may spend the holiday alone. Many would greatly appreciate a kind, warm home instead.

9. Potluck Thanksgiving

If you’re overwhelmed by preparing a full Thanksgiving meal — or you simply want to include more people in your community — you can host a potluck Thanksgiving. Invite members of your community and assign everyone a dish or beverage to bring. As long as you are considerate of other people’s abilities and budgets, you can end the day with a meal large enough to feed everyone without being overrun with work for yourself.

10. Family Is a Phone Call Away

Missing family is one of the hardest parts of the holidays while living in base housing. This is normal, fair, and appropriate. Still, try to be careful you don’t let the grief of missing others consume your day. Family is only a phone call away, so take advantage of this easy communication. Call the people you miss, let them know you love them, and share a little bit of your day with them in this way. Then focus on making your holiday as amazing as possible. 

New family traditions and building connections with your neighbors are great ways to celebrate Thanksgiving while living on a military base. Count your blessings and enjoy the holiday without expectations.

More Ways to Make Thanksgiving Special

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