Home Front Salute: December 2015Posted: December 26, 2015
This time of year inspires me to reminisce about my childhood in Germany, and to the places my husband and I were stationed during his military career. Judging from the message boards on social media, many military families do the same thing. Many American service families have fond memories of visiting the Christmas markets in Germany, attending luaus in Hawaii, celebrating Eid Al-Adha in Morocco, or ringing in the New Year overseas.
Our military family moved a lot, and we’ve blended holidays, customs, foods, traditions, and music along the way, hopefully making good memories for our children.
As an American child growing up in Germany, I made paper lanterns every November in my DOD school, and on November 11th, Saint Martin’s day, I would join dozens of German children parading through the streets of Karlsruhe singing songs by lantern light.
Years later, our family was stationed back in Germany, and our son Erik, who was attending German kindergarten, paraded through the town of Niederaula with his classmates. Saint Martin, himself, riding on horseback, led the parade to a bonfire in a field just out of town. We adults drank mulled wine and watched as our children played together.
In Puerto Rico, our neighbors introduced us to the custom of paranda, and we went from house to house singing and drinking coquito into the wee hours of the night. Later, we joined our new friends in a community feast and enjoyed slabs of a whole pig, which had been slow roasted all day over coals in a pit.
Until we were stationed in the Deep South, I had never seen a black eyed pea, let alone eat one. So, while living in South Carolina and Alabama we ate black-eyed peas for New Years.
Facebook is full of stories from military family members who have incorporated elements of the host nation’s holidays into their own lives and who introduced their host nation neighbors to traditional American holidays. This blending of traditional American and foreign elements into our holiday celebrations is something many of us consider normal.
Military Brat Amber recalls, “Our tradition was to be nontraditional! Whatever country we were in, that was the “flavor” for the holidays! So typical turkey, ham and beef were replaced with German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian or other countries’ dishes! I share this tradition of being non-traditional with my kids today!”
Especially overseas, we celebrated together—with greatly extended families of married couples, single service members and, with our civilian neighbors. Those memories have lasted a lifetime.
Jim says, “My wife and I still talk about spending Thanksgiving dinner with our fathers and the troops in the mess halls as Brats.”
Candalee recalls, “We were always living overseas. My mom would cook her butt off and invite all the men in my dad’s troop to come for dinner. It was awesome. Always festive and a house full during the holidays…”
Military wife, Ursula, agrees, “ We always invited single soldiers from my husband’s unit who had no place to go. What an experience that was!”
The children of military and DoD personnel overseas walk between worlds—their own American one, their military one, and that of their host nation. Because of their unique circumstances, they create their own cultural identity, and it is, for the most part, inclusive.
I grew up knowing I was an Ambassador for America—as did most of my peers–and I believe that feeling of responsibility extends into today’s military families.
By living overseas, learning new customs and meeting new people, we represent the best of the United States.
Being an Ambassador meant learning diplomacy as Air Force daughter Misty learned: “…My first Fourth of July outside of America… in England, waving a flag while living on the economy in this particular host nation could easily be considered an insult. Considering how warmly our particular group of neighbors had welcomed us, the last thing we wanted to do was insult them.”
One young man says of his military upbringing: “Germany exposed me to many other cultures… Before Germany, I never had friends who weren’t of my own race and I am forever in debt as a result.”
Deborah remembers a Thanksgiving years ago: “My father’s secretary and her parents ate with us one year in Morocco, and her father fell in love with jellied cranberry sauce. My parents gave them a couple of cans and her Dad kept hugging and kissing my Dad, back and forth, cheek to cheek.”
As military families, we represent the United States of America; and through our exposure and embracing of many world cultures, we have a greater appreciation of people who live outside our bases and posts—and as a big, extended Service family, our mobile, global lifestyle is another bond we all share.
(Circe Olson Woessner is the Executive Director of the Museum of the American Military Family & Learning Center. The museum collects the stories of military families of all branches and generations to preserve their heritage, record its evolution and share their experiences.)