Embrace Old and New Traditions This Holiday Season

by | Dec 4, 2020 | Blog, Family

Untitled design (44)-min.png


As a relatively new military spouse, I am constantly learning to embrace everything that military life throws my way. One challenge is being away from family around the holidays. It may be hard to adjust and to recreate those memories and traditions that you grew up with. For instance, it can be difficult to go ice skating, build a snowman, have a snowball fight followed by hot chocolate, and cut down your own Christmas tree when you are hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home and in a different climate. However, as with everything in military life, your attitude makes a huge difference. Those who have been around the military for a while know that one of the best things about this lifestyle is embracing the different holiday traditions and customs of the areas we currently call home. In fact, many try to keep these traditions alive after moving to their next duty station.



Traditions are traditions because they mean something to us and our families. These small moments bring back memories and light up our hearts and faces with joy. We repeat them from year to year because we seek that connection and feeling of joy that each tradition, no matter how small, may bring. I have brought traditions from Maine, where I grew up, to our new duty station in North Carolina. These include my family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation, “snowy” evening walks through town with my husband, and watching the Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

Growing up in Maine was as close to an old-fashioned Christmas as you could get. Neighbors baked and delivered baked goods to friends, Christmas tree farms hosted Santa while families came to cut their own Christmas tree, each town had a Christmas festival and parade with a tree lighting, and so much more! My family enjoyed all of this, but one thing that made the holidays so special was spending time with family and making and enjoying a meal together.


One tradition that has been passed down in my family is that every December 23, the night before Christmas Eve, my mom and I stay up until the early hours baking a traditional French Acadian dish that dates back to the 1700s called Pot en pot or six-pâtes. It is a combination of beef, pork, and chicken seasoned with cinnamon and cloves and placed between six layers of dough in a cast iron Dutch oven. This six-layer meat pie is baked overnight and then warmed and served following Christmas Eve mass to our entire family. Following dinner, the children in our family open presents and the adults do a gift swap where each person brings a small gift and picks a number to see which one they will receive. It is more important to spend time together than to focus on presents, especially when those of us who are military families may not be home for long. Following dinner and gifts for the kids, everyone settles down, the wood stove is given another log, and It’s a Wonderful Life begins to play. Watching this Christmas movie classic by the glow of the Christmas tree reminds us that taking care of others and sharing all we are blessed to have is the greatest gift there is. We remember that we are loved and important and that it truly is far greater to give than to receive. As Clarence the angel says in It’s a Wonderful Life, “Strange isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”



I know that even if I cannot make it home for Christmas every year, or find a snowy street to walk hand-in-hand with my husband, or sip hot chocolate, if I am sharing a meal with others less fortunate and if my “family” that year consists of our friends joining us at our dinner table, we will not be alone and we will still be happy. Every holiday season I will be faced with new experiences, opportunities to make new traditions, and a chance to reach out to others. I can begin new traditions in my new home—like visiting a Christmas market in Raleigh or attending the Christmas tree lighting in our new town. I know that my new traditions will meld together with the old—each December 23 my mom and I will still both stay up baking our French dish. Every Christmas Eve I will watch It’s A Wonderful Life and take Clarence the angel’s advice and remind others that they are important, loved, and cherished.

Material things don’t carry the same meaning they may have before. Opening the perfect gift isn’t the reason we hope to wake up with our loved ones on Christmas morning. We already have everything we need: a family that loves one another, hopefully a spouse who is home . . . or will be home soon, and a desire to serve others by serving our country. We know what it is like to be separated, and being together is the greatest gift one could ever wish for as a military family. We may be in separate states, away from home and family, but we will all be together in this beautiful and uplifting spirit of the holiday season in giving of our resources, our time, and of ourselves.



Wherever you and your family may be this holiday season, here are a few suggestions of new traditions you can add to your family’s holiday celebrations:

  • Military families around the world often get together with friends for holiday dinners to celebrate the holidays.

  • Local traditions are often picked up by military families. Those who have been stationed in Germany with their children might put out a boot for St. Nikolaus on the night of December 5 even after they’ve moved on to their new duty stations.

  • Giving back to others and to our communities is important for military families. Around the holidays, you’ll often find military families participating in projects that provide for others who are less fortunate—whether that means collecting food for a food bank or clothing and toys for children.

  • At some installations there are traditions where military families are encouraged to provide baked goods for single service members who are living in dorms or barracks. Additionally, some family readiness groups or family support groups will get together and go caroling in the dorms or barracks to bring holiday cheer to those single service members.

  • Many military families who live close to a veterans’ cemetery will volunteer for Wreaths Across America where they’ll be able to lay donated wreaths on the graves of our nation’s veterans.

In whatever way your family will be celebrating the holidays this year, I hope this time of year brings you joy, peace, love, and happiness!


The six-pâtes recipe and its history

Christmas traditions for North Carolina

Embrace Old and New Traditions This Holiday Season.png

About Sarah

_MG_0310 (1)-min.jpeg

Sarah Wick is a military spouse living in Fayetteville, North Carolina with her husband and dog Harper. She enjoys getting together with friends, exploring North Carolina towns, and making her way to the beach or Blue Ridge mountains whenever possible.

Connect with Sarah

Facebook | Instagram

InDependent makes wellness accessible and creates opportunities for all military spouses to connect for friendship, accountability, and inspiration.

We envision a time when all military spouses thrive through connection to community and resources that results in healthy decision-making for themselves and their families.