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12 Types of Military Christmases

Photograph by Bryanne Salazar

Military families don't always have traditional holiday celebrations. Between deployments, training cycles, moves and more, Christmas can be different from the norm.

As an 18-year-long USMC wife (that's U.S. Marine Corps, for the uninitiated), I can attest to every single one of the following military Christmases, and I'm positive there are a few I've missed.

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1. The "Dad/Mom has to go to work on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day" Christmas

The military has its own rules and regulations, and sometimes it means our spouses have to work on days we consider untouchable. While it's rare that military members have to work on these days when they're not deployed, they may be the unlucky few who are assigned duty or have to participate in a training operation.

2. The "We just PCSd the week before Christmas and don't have the money or room in our hotel room to decorate/celebrate" Christmas

PCS or "permanent change of station" means that the service member is assigned to a new duty location with his or her family. It can happen at any time during the year, including during the holidays. The high moving costs and cramped motel rooms dampen our ability to celebrate in full.

3. The "Dad/Mom just got PCS orders for January and now we have to save money to move" Christmas

Like No. 2, moving anywhere near the Christmas holiday impedes a family's ability to celebrate with normal decorating, feasting and gift-giving. Military families don't want the hassle of more stuff to pack and they have to carefully budget for the upcoming move, which can be costly.

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4. The "Dad/Mom recently deployed and we are doing our best to celebrate even though we miss him/her" Christmas

This is the military Christmas that gets all the attention. It's extremely difficult for military families to feel holiday joy when their spouse/dad/mom is not there to celebrate with them. Some families, like mine, use Skype or phone calls to include the deployed service member in the morning-of festivities.

5. The "Dad/Mom just got home from deployment in time to celebrate Christmas and we are so excited but it's a little awkward" Christmas

Deployments are hard, even for the best of us. Homecomings can be amazing experiences in comparison. But they also mean readjustment and a reconfiguring of family roles. Coming home right before Christmas can be joyous, but there is always a bit of discomfort as families get used to having their formerly-deployed loved one back and reintegrated into family traditions after being away for long stretches of time.

6. The "Dad/Mom just found out he/she is deploying next month and now Christmas seems like the last holiday we will ever have together" Christmas

Nothing puts a damper on Christmas joy than deployment orders. It can be hard for military families to feel happy when they are coping with the news that their loved one will be leaving soon. It also puts an emotional intensity on the holidays that normally wouldn't be there.

7. The "We have to get base passes for everyone in our family because they are all coming to stay with us and OMG we don't have enough sheets" Christmas

Most military families live on a shoestring budget and so finding enough sheets, towels, beds and food to host their extended family members for Christmas is frightening, especially for younger military couples. It's not uncommon to hear neighbors putting out an S.O.S. to borrow bedding and other items from each other to cover them during their family's visit.

8. The "Our extended family has no idea how hard it was for us to make a trip back home to see them, but we did it anyway" Christmas

We love seeing our families, but getting time off, packing up the gifts we've already bought, making sure pets are cared for, and finding enough extra money to cover our travel (as well as the extra gifts we'll need to buy) can make trips back home difficult. We do it anyway, because we love them and know that next year, we may not live close enough to spend the holidays together.

9. The "We're broke because our military ball was in November and in Las Vegas, so now we have no money" Christmas

The military branches celebrate their birthdays every year with formal military balls. These events are lavish, steeped in tradition and are not cheap. Tickets to the venue, ball gowns, uniforms, hotel rooms, travel expenses and more can add up quickly, resulting in hundreds, even thousands, of dollars spent. When units decide to host their balls in costly destinations like Las Vegas, it can cut into our Christmas budget. Note: military members are expected to attend their branch's birthday ball, and not going isn't generally an option.

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10. The "The country we are stationed in doesn't celebrate Christmas but we are still enjoying the season" Christmas

There is nothing like living somewhere where Christmas is not a tradition, and trying your best to recreate the seasonal warmth when none of the items you normally buy for the holidays are available at local stores. Thankfully, military families are exceptional about making the holidays special no matter where they are stationed.

11. The "It's 85 degrees, we are wearing slippers and tank tops and spending the day at the beach because we are stationed in Hawaii, but Mele Kalikimaka anyway" Christmas

If you've been used to mainland Christmases, being stationed in warm tropical climates like Hawaii can be jarring during the holidays. However, even if they have to decorate a palm tree instead of a Douglas fir, military families don't waste time complaining. It's Hawaii, after all.

12. The "Oh, is this what a normal Christmas actually feels like?" Christmas

When everyone is able to be together, have time off, not worried about upcoming travel or deployments, the holidays can be surreal. Many military members have rarely experienced a normal holiday and therefore when we have them, we tend to pinch ourselves to make sure we aren't dreaming.

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