As we celebrate the return of US military personnel from Iraq, many more are still deployed, stationed overseas, or just unable to return home. Although being away from home can be a challenge, it also offers unique ways to celebrate the holiday season. I asked my “sisters in arms” at the RomVets, www.romvets.com, to share how they celebrated the holidays during their military service.
From Merline Lovelace, USAF
Al and I were in Vietnam for the Christmas of 1971. He was at Danang, I was in Saigon but managed to catch a hop up to spend Christmas Eve and Day with him. I hauled enough cheese, crackers and other goodies from the PX at Tan Son Nhut for us to throw a party for his troops at his hooch. They provided the booze
We had a great time singing slightly risqué versions of Christmas carols then, just before midnight, we piled into jeeps and drove across base for midnight mass at the chapel. Halfway thru mass, I heard these rousing snores start coming from the pews behind me. The chaplain, bless his heart, just kept on with it. We managed to wake everyone up and get them safely back to their hooches before the first round of rockets came in about 3 am.
When my son joined the Marines, his boot camp went through the holidays. To try and make his Christmas special, I contacted his kindergarten teacher and asked if her class would make Christmas cards for his platoon. She agreed. When I went to the elementary school to pick up the cards, not only had her class made cards, but other teachers had heard about what I was doing, and their classes also made cards as well. I was so moved by the incredible and thoughtful wishes those children had written, I still cry thinking about it. When my son opened the package of Christmas cards from his first grade teacher in Marine Corps boot camp, he was blown away. Best, he shared them with the other Marines.
The Navy sent us to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for two years in the early ’80s. Because it was illegal to practice Christianity in that country, we decided to celebrate Christmas this way: Before we left the U.S. we packed white tree lights, cookie cutters, and several spools of red ribbon. We knew that whatever the circumstances, we could bake cookies and hang them on an indoor plant for our “Christmas Tree.” As to religious services, families met together in our western compound and held illegal services. It made us think about what it must have been like to be an early Christian. (It makes us appreciate a choir singing out in church to this very day!) We explained to our children, ages 6 and 8, that whether or not the Saudis confiscated the Bible that we hid in our household goods or took the gold cross from around my neck, nobody at Customs could check our beliefs. It was a valuable lesson for all of us to know that no one can take away the thoughts, feelings, or beliefs that we hold dear.
When we were stationed at the Naval Facility in Argentia Newfoundland, my DH (also a Veteran) and I spent one Christmas Eve dancing Irish jigs in the
kitchen of some friendly locals. Afterwards we enjoyed our first (and so
far my only) caribou steak dinner.
I share my own unique experience from the Netherlands. We attended Christmas Eve Mass in the Caves of St. Peter. Located near Maastricht, centuries of quarrying for marl provided underground caverns that the locals often used during seiges by invading neighbors. During WWII, the American Army used the caves to hold Christmas Eve Mass before engaging the German army in the Battle of the Bulge. Our modern mass paid homage to those brave men.
I invite you to share how you have celebrated the holidays – tradition or unique. One commenter will win a 2012 Hawaiian Calendar. Winner will be announced in this post – good luck!
Kim Adams is an Air Force Veteran and Air Force spouse in Hawaii. Her blog, SOS Aloha, promotes romance reading, military families, and Hawaiian culture at www.sosaloha.blogspot.com.