Christmas can be a difficult time for the children of deployed members of the military. The holiday focus on family, tradition, and home highlights the fact that a beloved family member isn’t home, traditions may be disrupted, and the child may be in a new and unfamiliar town, far from friends and extended family.
As Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and I wrote Where Treetops Glisten, we were struck by how hard Christmas can be for deployed service members and their families back home. On November 11, Tricia Goyer shared “Send Cheer to a Soldier.” On November 18, Cara Putman shared “Spread Love This Holiday Season to Military Spouses.” Since my novella features six-year-old Linnie Kessler, who lost her father in the early days of World War II and desperately wants a new daddy, I wanted to focus on ways we can help military kids at Christmastime.
Cheer for the Children
When I started writing this article, I asked my Facebook friends for ideas, and I was touched and overwhelmed by the stories they shared. Some had grown up with a parent in the military, and some were current or former military spouses. All had a recurring theme—Christmas is hard when Dad or Mom is deployed, and providing support, strong connections to the deployed parent, and a solid sense of family tradition can help the child feel loved and secure. There are two sets of tips—for parents of military children, and for civilians who want to bless military kids in the community.
Tips for Parents of Military Children
- Record a Story: Jocelyn Green, author of Faith Deployed and Faith Deployed…Again, suggested making audio or video recordings of the deployed parent reading Christmas stories for the child to listen to over and over. Jocelyn also has a ministry to military wives on her website.
- Record Carols: Michelle Ule, who served as a Navy wife for 21 years, suggested Dad record himself singing Christmas carols. These would be fun to use for an improvised family sing-along. Michelle wrote a touching blog article about her experiences as a military wife – “The Challenge of a Father in Uniform.”
- Gifts & Cards: Michelle Ule’s husband left behind wrapped gifts to be opened at Christmas, and he mailed Christmas cards. Jocelyn Green also stressed the beauty of written letters and postcards, even in the day of emails and Facebook.
- Art Project: After Christmas, have the children make an art project or scrapbook page about their celebration to send to the deployed parent—a great idea from Jocelyn Green.
- Skype the Festivities: What a blessing Skype, Facetime, and other technological wonders have been! Military wife Becca Pekrul was in Germany while her husband was in Iraq, and her children loved opening gifts while Skyping with their grandparents back in the States.
- Trace Hands: Jericha Kingston, a 20-year Navy wife, wrote: “He’d try to ship gifts to the boys, but one year, the best my husband could do was trace his hand on two pieces of paper and write, ‘I love you, Merry Christmas’ on each of them. I still remember the boys placing their little hands atop of their dad’s ‘paper hand.’ I’m getting misty just thinking about it.”
- Consistent Traditions: Kassidy Childers wrote, “One thing military families know is change and a lot of it, so anything that is familiar makes the situation easier to handle.” She suggested consistent traditions like certain movies and Christmas pajamas. Vickie Jones, who served in the military herself, always sent home a “Night Before Christmas” box with the book, jammies, and a mug for hot chocolate. When military child Kay Moorhouse was ten, her mother told her they wouldn’t have a Christmas tree since all the decorations were in storage. Kay was devastated, found a tiny pine tree, twisted it off at the trunk, and brought it home. A strong reminder of a child’s need for stability and tradition.
- Celebrate Again: Brenda Foster, a current military wife with young children, wrote: “We’ve learned to celebrate holidays when we’re together with family, not always when the calendar tells us.” So…celebrate on December 25, then again when Daddy comes home!
- Collect Memories: Brenda also wrote, “We make traditions wherever we go and collect ornaments from everywhere we visit and wherever their daddy travels to.” These unique souvenirs help create a special sense of family.
Tips for Civilians
- Gifts: Many of my friends mentioned money being tight in military families. Annie Atkinson suggested asking the deployed parent what the child would like for Christmas and giving it to them. Richard Boyd, Patti Smith, and Jocelyn Green suggested gift cards to help buy gifts and groceries, and also fun things like movie tickets.
- Night Out Event: Jocelyn Green encourages churches to organize nights out with child care or a fun event for the children and giving the home front parent free time to shop, decorate, or relax.
- For the Boys: If Dad is deployed, the boys miss out on daddy things. Michelle Ule appreciated it when men took her son out for “man-time,” including things like building doghouses. Likewise, if Mom is deployed, some “girl-time” would be a wonderful gift for the daughters.
- Shopping Time: Michelle Ule also suggested that civilians take military kids out shopping to buy gifts for the home front parent. This doubles as a gift of free time for that parent!
- Dinner Invites: Richard Boyd suggested adopting a military family. Invite them over to dinner, share some gifts, and make new friends.
- A Touch of Home: Sometimes the kids themselves are deployed overseas. Jessica Reno suggested sending them uniquely American things, like candy you can only buy in the States, those things from home they miss most.
- Pictures: When Kathy Boyd Fellure was in England with her Air Force husband, her favorite gift was a box of childhood photos from her grandparents. Kathy said, “My husband, children, and I spent hours laughing and looking at my six sisters, my parents and grandparents. I was so homesick. It was the perfect gift of my lifetime.”
- Just Have Fun: Former military child Megan Wilson shared her favorite Christmas memory: “The neighborhood teenagers would help decorate the house and dance around the house to Christmas music.” Simply being there for military families can be the best gift of all.
What can you do to brighten Christmas for a military child this year?