Category Archives: Holidays

Christmas in Senegal: Paper Trees and Mandarin Oranges

As a young child celebrating Christmas, I associated the holidays with cold weather and the hope for snow. We would be among the first to buy our freshly cut Christmas tree and decorate it with lights and ornaments. My mom made fancy Christmas dresses for our special candlelight Christmas Eve service. Christmas Day, we would bundle up and trek over to my grandparents for food and presents. For years, these memories were as familiar and comfortable as my favorite winter coat.

When I turned 13, my holiday experience changed in a big way. My parents and I moved to West Africa to do mission work. Little was familiar and I would soon be learning to appreciate holiday memories in a new way.

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I remember our first holiday season in Africa, like it was yesterday. It was a balmy 104 degrees, and instead of a Christmas tree, we had a paper tree plastered on the wall. In place of a fancy dress, I wore shorts and a tank top.  It was Christmas-time, but everything in me resisted the change.

I cried a lot that first Christmas. Maybe it was the sad paper tree, or maybe it was because I wasn’t around my siblings, grandparents, and extended family. Maybe it was because I just wanted peanut M&Ms that didn’t arrive half-eaten by rats. I simply missed the comforts of home.

But even though it didn’t feel like what I thought the holidays should feel like, I came to embrace my new “holiday” normal. With my brother, sister, and our entire extended family on the other side of the world, my parents and I created new and different holiday traditions. Families that didn’t fly state-side for the holidays, came together and merged into one, big “family” unit comprised of friends and stragglers. We didn’t have snow, but we had the beach. And I was actually starting to enjoy this!

My favorite past-time during the holidays became sunbathing on our empty school campus in Dakar, Senegal, while reading through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and eating mandarin oranges by the dozens. To this day, mandarin oranges are the #1 thing I think of during Christmas-time.

Military families often have to adjust their holiday traditions because of PCS moves or deployments, and I know it can be hard. Even though the latter part of my childhood was spent overseas away from family, I am so grateful for the experience and hope to give my own children the same opportunity. Who knew paper trees and mandarin oranges could create such a special holiday memory?

What’s your favorite holiday memory? Have you had to adjust any traditions because of a military move?

hannahPosted by Hannah Pike, Communications Deputy Director

Meeting Your Significant Other’s Family: 5 Tips to Nail It This Holiday Season

It’s new. It’s scary.

No, I’m not talking about that new fancy TV remote control your boyfriend has with all those buttons that you aren’t really sure what to do with. I’m talking about when you make it to the point in your relationship when spending the holidays with your significant other’s (SO) family becomes a reality.

For my boyfriend and I made the decision to start splitting holidays two years ago. We spend Thanksgiving down south with my parents, and the land of delicious snacks for the winter holidays with his folks. So far, so good, but I would be lying if I didn’t say there have been some growing pains along the way.

Navigating other families’ holiday traditions while not feeling like an outsider can take some time. But I’ve picked up a few nuggets of wisdom that may help ease the transition so you don’t feel like you need to reach for that extra glass of eggnog, or whiskey…or eggnog whiskey.

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Don’t show up empty handed
My mom taught me this from a young age, and I think it should apply to any visit you make. Sometimes money can be tight though, so don’t forget about the appeal of homemade gift (cookies can go a long way!). If you have a few extra bucks to spend, but don’t know what to get, think local. A bag of coffee from a local coffee house where you live, or maybe a beer or wine that they can’t get where they live. Try hitting up your local farmers or flea market to find something unique. The more thoughtful you are with your gift, the more meaningful it will be to your SO’s parents, especially if it’s the first time you are meeting.

Offer to help
In the kitchen, with any last minute decorating, etc. Although you may feel uncomfortable leaving your SO’s side, put yourself out there and offer to help clean up the dishes, or set the table. You never know when something so small could mean so much. You’re a guest in their home, and it may feel weird for them to have someone new there, so be sure to offer to help. And use it as a chance to chit chat and get to know each other! But keep this next tip in mind…

Avoid controversial topics
As with the first two points, this is also something good to keep in mind all the time–not just a trip to your SO’s hometown. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion, but try to avoid any political or religious debates during your visit. The holidays should be a time for happiness and togetherness, not time for you and Uncle Jerry to get into a spitting match over why so-and-so is a moron (even if said so-and-so probably is).

Befriend the pets
Any pets they may have are a part of their family, so you can help win your way to their heart by making friends. If, for some reason, you aren’t the biggest fan of pets, don’t sweat it, just be kind and courteous, and never be rude. Talk to your SO beforehand, too, in case you have allergies. Dying of anaphylactic shock upon your first meeting will definitely be memorable–but we don’t want that for you.

Talk to your SO beforehand
If you are having any anxiety about visiting for the holidays, have a conversation with your partner about what is causing the anxiety. Is it just being somewhere new? Are you worried about small talk? Ask for advice on things to talk about before you get there to help avoid any awkward silences. And if they happen, embrace them. They are probably just as nervous as you, so take a breath, enjoy, and don’t take yourself too seriously. We’re human, after all.

Happy Holidays!

What are your tips for meeting your significant other’s family? Have a crazy ‘first-meeting’ story? Leave us a comment and share!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

New Orders, New House, New Holiday Traditions

The military is steeped with traditions, and honoring the traditions is one of the aspects of military life my family enjoys the most.

We also enjoy celebrating holiday traditions–military-style. For us, our holiday “traditions” are not always the same. We try for common themes; yet we don’t worry about small details because spending time with family or friends is more important than getting the holiday tradition right.

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This is our son’s fifth Christmas, and third Christmas in a new house. Ever since he was born, I’ve made it a point to decorate for the holidays. He loves it. He loves looking at the calendar and planning out what event or holiday is next. He likes to create art projects and proudly display the handmade creations on our walls. With a military lifestyle, it can be difficult to replicate the same traditions each year.

This year, my son wanted to have a small Christmas tree in his room. My gut reaction was to say no; I don’t need another item to set-up, store, or take down. But before I said no, I thought about his request. At age five, he wants to be involved in holiday traditions and have some ownership and traditions that are uniquely his own. With another new house, I thought, why not?

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Here are my tips for honoring holiday traditions…military-style:

  1. Be Flexible. In military life, holiday celebrations are constantly changing. One year you may be able to celebrate with family and the next year your service member may be deployed. Your traditional family meal or outing may have to be swapped for something that is convenient and fits the moment. Pizza for Christmas dinner? Sure!

  2. Ban “Perfect” from your Vocabulary. 
    I have to remind myself of this often. It doesn’t have to be perfect. When my one year old and five year old had finished decorating the tree in my son’s room, I wasn’t thrilled that all of the ornaments were clumped together, or hanging from bookshelves and stuffed animals, but they were happy and proud of their work. I sometimes find them playing Santa, and having a tree they can play with keeps them busy and makes them feel involved.
  3. Redefine your family traditions. What makes something a tradition? Is it an event or ritual repeated each year? Maybe you aren’t located in an area where you can find a fresh tree or attend a tree lighting ceremony. Check out the local events and try a new tradition, like sledding down sand or watching a holiday movie while floating in a pool!

Whatever holiday traditions your family likes to honor (or not), remember what becomes a tradition is up to you.

Does your military family honor holiday traditions?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

Happy Thanksgiving, Military Families!

With warm hearts and joyful spirits, we wish you and your military family a Happy Thanksgiving. Need a reason to be grateful for your military life? We’ve got 30 reasons to give thanks!

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Behind the Front Door: Help Military Families This Holiday Season

With the holiday season around the corner, we know families are coming together, creating cozy, love-filled, homes to celebrate. Behind every front door are stories and traditions passed from year to year. For military families, the traditions and stories sometimes don’t include every member of the family.

Only 1% of the nation serves in the military. Since September 11, 2001, more than 3 million service members have deployed in response to the war on terrorism. That means 1.8 million family members were left behind to continue their holiday traditions without their loved one. More than 2 million children had a parent miss out on making special holiday memories.

This holiday season, you have the opportunity to help military families continue their traditions together.

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Through generous donations, our Association is able to continue our mission to empower, strengthen, and heal our nation’s military families through programs designed to help them overcome obstacles together.

For $1,500, we are able to send a family of 3 to an Operation Purple Family Retreat® or Operation Purple Healing Adventure® camp, where they can connect and make new memories in a wilderness camp setting. And with a $30 donation, we can give a family member a full day of meals at camp.

But your donation doesn’t have to stop there. A $50 donation can provide a college or graduate-level textbook to a military spouse, furthering his or her education. With that education, he or she can build a stable and strong financial foundation for their family, and enjoy each holiday without the stress of wondering how they’ll afford gifts.

You have the chance to change the way a military family creates new traditions and memories for themselves. And we need your help. Our Association relies on the generosity of donors, like you, who want to make a difference, and who stand firmly behind the ones who serve in the silent ranks.

Military families need you. Please donate today.

Veterans Day: We Support You. We Appreciate You.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed civilians can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

-Margaret Mead

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This Veterans Day, the National Military Family Association encourages you to show your appreciation for the men and women who dared to commit their lives to protect our nation. We owe them our respect and gratitude, not only for serving in our all-volunteer military, but for the impact they play within their communities, their jobs, and among their fellow veterans.

And behind every current or former service member, stands a family supporting, encouraging, and sacrificing. We cannot forget the mission these families accomplished during their loved ones’ active duty or reserve service. Though they may not have laced up boots or buttoned up a uniform, their part should not go unrecognized.

Veterans: with endless gratitude we thank you for your service to our country and your commitment to the mission. We are proud of what you’ve accomplished, and we stand behind you and your family.

Together we’re stronger.

Thanks to Meineke and Maaco, we’re giving away a $100 prepaid Visa gift card to a lucky Branching Out reader! These two brands have partnered to honor veterans through their Cars and Stripes campaign, where they’ve fully restored a truck to gift to a deserving veteran in need of transportation. Cars and Stripes is a four-week video series that will launch on the brands’ Facebook pages starting today.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is follow Branching Out blog! To follow, simply enter your email address in the right column! Giveaway ends tonight at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be contacted via email on 11/12/15.

Celebrate Your Freedom by Standing Behind Military Families!

military-kids-raising-flagOnly a few more days until we celebrate the birth of our great nation, and the smell of bar-b-que, fireworks, and sunscreen will fill the air. The Star Spangled Banner will play loudly, and we’ll take a minute to remember the price of freedom.

But is a minute enough?

While most of us will be enjoying a long holiday weekend, we ask you to show your support of those military families who will spent, yet another, holiday apart. An easy, quick way to show you support is by helping us on our quest to win $25,000 through the Crowdrise Veterans Charity Challenge 3!

With just a few clicks, a few dollars, and a few pats on your back for being awesome, you’ll help us in two ways:

1. Now through July 2, Crowdrise will give an additional $20 for the first 100 donations of at least $20! Free money?! Awesome!

2. You’ll become one of the selfless military family supporters who keep NMFA’s  mission alive by continuing to serve the ones who stand behind the uniform.

We hope your holiday weekend is relaxing, and filled with joy and fellowship. Please take a few minutes and clicks to help fill a military family’s life with those same things.

Donate to the National Military Family Association’s via Crowdrise.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager