Being away from family is hard enough, but imagine if you didn’t have a place to call home on a traditional holiday, that’s incredibly lonely.
Our military members deserve a celebration on these special days. It has been our family’s mission to make sure that these young men and women have a place to call home.
Every year my husband and I extend an invitation to anyone who would like to spend Christmas or Thanksgiving with our family. Last year we moved OCONUS to Okinawa, Japan. We decided to keep the tradition alive by hostingThanksgiving at our home. What initially started as hosting only a few Marines quickly turned into 13 Marines, in addition to our four children, my father and us. This brought our total to 20! Though our plan isn’t always full proof and thank goodness we have a van for shuttle services, here is what we have learned throughout the years to make the experience memorable and enjoyable!
1. Serve some of their favorites
Making a Facebook group is one of the easiest ways to stay in contact with everyone. As people accept your invites you can add them to the group and keep updating as the holiday approaches. You can share your menu list in the group and ask for any additional favorites from home. This year pumpkin pie and boiled carrots were requested and we made it happen! We also asked who the youngest Marine would be in attendance and let them make the first cut of the turkey. Keeping family traditions alive and asking what means the most to them, is the corner stone of a great host!
2. Create a warm environment
Cleaning and decorating come with the territory. It’s not always fun to clean and not everyone has time to do it. If needed you can hire someone, enlist the help of your fellow military spouse, or have your kiddos pitch in! Once the cleaning is complete adding decorative touches of home such as candles, flowers, lights can make the environment warm and welcoming. You can also set out a few games and traditional movies. This year the big hit was battleship and catchphrase, who knew?
Making space is also important. When dealing with small spaces, one can use out door areas. Setting up a few chairs and a table outside will go a long way. Welcoming guests by taking their coat at the door and greeting them with a smile, even if you are covered in flour and who knows what else, will also be met with appreciation.
3. Add something special
Putting together something meaningful to remind them of their time shared with you is important. This could be a special note, maybe a favorite quote or words of encouragement. A nice place card with their first name is also a great idea. So many times we hear our spouses talk about everyone by last name. Switching it up and using their first name makes it more personable!
Additionally, you can always send them home with a small gift. This year we chose to send the Marines off with a set of Shisa Dogs, Japanese symbols of protection and good spirits. We also sent them away with a ton of left overs. Make sure to stack up on containers! I didn’t need to add to my waistline and sending Marines home with food is a perfect excuse to get rid of them.
4. Remember to Laugh:
Plans don’t always go smoothly and sometimes we just have to adapt to the environment. As military spouses we are often pros at this but sometimes we get a curve ball. One year while prepping a ham the lid of the cloves slid off and my entire ham was covered in them. I did my best to get out as many as possible but didn’t think it would matter much. To my regret, the only thing you could really taste were cloves, instead of ham. Whether it is an unexpected plus one or five, another person who needs a ride, a dish that didn’t come out quite right, remember to laugh and enjoy the day anyway.
5. Send them back with well wishes
As the night concludes make sure to go that extra step and say goodbye to each one of them. It means a lot and often you will receive an enormous amount of, “Thank Yous,” in return. If you have managed to make it this far chances are you will have returning guest the following year! Make no mistake our numbers keep growing! Returning kids, as my husband calls them, means you’re fortunate enough to have them want to come back and share this special holiday with your family.
Happy hosting to each of you!