As I listen to the Christmas tunes through Amazon Music, I reflect on where we have celebrated the holidays – both my active-duty spouse and as a military family around the world. My spouse has been on deployment during the holidays. As a family, we celebrated the holidays in Okinawa, Japan, wearing a t-shirt and flip-flops at the beach on a Christmas afternoon. We are not alone. Many military families have celebrated the holidays outside of their hometowns, instead celebrating where the military sends us. These unique experiences present opportunities to learn about the various areas we live in and perhaps continue the tradition with the next PCS. From OCONUS to CONUS, military families share their unique experiences of the holidays spent around the world.
For those lucky enough to call Germany home, the holidays are a magical time. Christkindlmarkt, or the Christmas Markets, in Germany are an outdoor shopping market for goods and foodstuffs. Glühwein and gingerbread are purchased and enjoyed. These traditions don’t end when leaving Germany. While markets like those in Germany are not as prominent, they do occur in some scattered towns around the United States, including Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Some big box stores carry German beer or glühwein, and while it may not be an exact replica for those treats enjoyed at the Christmas Markets,
The custom of celebrating St. Niklaus Day may have begun for those who lived in Germany but continues even after leaving. It’s a fun way to continue and honor those traditions learned overseas. St. Niklaus Day is celebrated on the eve of December 5th, and children, and adults alike, place their shoes outside or at their door for St. Niklaus to leave treats in the shoes, per the Legend of St. Niklaus.
Around the US
No matter where the military sends families, there are some traditions that can be continued no matter what. Several families shared that they continue the magic of the Elf on the Shelf, which find them in places everywhere from Japan to Washington DC. The traditions of reading specific books or pajamas and cocoa on Christmas Eve can occur no matter where home is, although the pajamas maybe shorts and tank tops versus flannel, depending on the weather.
Italy celebrates the holidays with sweet treats and festivals, and light displays. Le Befana, the Christmas Witch per Italian stories, brings children gifts on January 5th. The sweetened breads of panettone and pandoro are enjoyed throughout the holiday enjoyed, with and without the amazing Italian coffee. Thanks to global shipping, even after leaving Italy, military families are able to find these breads in the United States to reminisce on their time in Italy.
Mainland and Okinawa, Japan, go all out for the holidays. Scattered throughout the islands, hotels offer light-up shows on the hotel grounds. Some are set to music, and some are themed displays, but they all bring on the holiday joy of sparkling holiday lights. To celebrate the local way, you wouldn’t believe what food you need to find. The traditional holiday meal in December is Kentucky Fried Chicken! Yes, you read that correctly. The American chicken chain is very popular. Orders are taken early, and at pick-up time in Japanese efficiency; a table is set up outside for ease of pick-up. In the past, a holiday gift has been included with meals, including a bento box or holiday mug. The beautiful thing about this is that KFC can be enjoyed in the states after leaving Japan, but be warned, it doesn’t taste exactly the same.
Another Japanese treat is Japanese Christmas cake. The Christmas cake is a light, slightly sweetened cake topped with fruit that is delicious to taste and beautiful to look at.
In preparation for the New Year, giant decorations of Kagami mochi are seen in storefronts and along the streets. Added mochi varieties in highly decorated containers are available in grocery stores. To find similar mochi in the states, find your local Asian food market.
The holidays in Great Britain are celebrated with lights and trees and local treats. Mince pies, shortbread, and clotted cream are holiday favorites. While recreating a snowy walk through the English countryside may not be replicated everywhere in the states, the treats may be available through a local British tea shop or the International aisle of the military Commissary.
While military families have celebrated the holidays around the world, these traditions that are experienced can continue no matter where the military sends us.