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12 Dec 2023

Red, White, and Merry: Celebrating Holidays in the Military

Cookies, candles, and joy - it's that wonderful time of the year! November and December bring many holidays celebrated by families worldwide – Diwali, Hanukkah, Krampus Night, and Kwanza are just a few around the world that are celebrated. Yet not every family holiday mirrors the magical moments often portrayed in Hollywood films. Some families grapple with separation, financial constraints, or time limitations. Our military families, with their distinctive responsibilities and lifestyle, share in these struggles. Thankfully, the Department of Defense (DOD) and global organizations have collaborated to create support systems, traditions, and services for service personnel, their families, and civilians to lessen the burden they may face during the holiday season. In this article, we'll explore how the DOD, national organizations, and local communities are extending a helping hand to families across the globe, and we will discuss ways your family can spread holiday cheer this season.

NORAD Tracks Santa

One month out of each year, the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) embarks on the magical journey of tracking the man in the red suit as he circles the globe. This whimsical tradition traces back nearly 65 years to an unexpected phone call. A little boy from Colorado Springs dialed the Constitutional Air Defense Command, hoping to speak to Santa after a department store advertisement misprinted the phone number. To his delight, Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup answered, and in the true spirit of Christmas, he and his team continued to field calls from eager children throughout the night. Beginning December 1st, you and your family can virtually visit the Noth Pole to learn more about Santa, play a new game every day in December, listen to Santa’s favorite music, and watch movies about Santa and NORAD! But make sure to come back on Christmas Eve to see when he’s flying his sleigh through a town near you!

Operation Christmas Drop

The holiday spirit didn't just touch the operators at the Constitutional Air Defense Command. In 1952, an aircrew aboard a B-29 Superfortress spotted Kapingamarangi islanders waving from below. Moved by the festive season, the crew decided to perform a parachute drop of supplies. This single act of generosity evolved into Operation Christmas Drop, the DOD's longest-running humanitarian initiative. For over a week, hundreds of volunteers, Service members, and communities unite to parachute packages to more than 50 remote islands in the Pacific. These aren't your typical wrapped gifts; they descend like snowflakes, filled with essentials like clothing, rice, school supplies, fishing gear, and, of course, toys!

Operation Homefront Holiday Toy Drive

The spirit of giving doesn't end with Operation Christmas Drop. The military community has its own secret Santa in the form of Operation Homefront's annual Holiday Toy Drive. This initiative brings joy to Veteran, wounded, and active-duty families through the gift of toys. Yet, it means more than just playthings; the Holiday Toy Drive symbolizes the community coming together to express gratitude to military personnel and their families for their unique sacrifices. In creating cherished memories and smiles, this present is priceless.

If you’re feeling as moved this holiday season as we are, here are some ways you can get involved with military communities near and far to spread that good ole holiday cheer:

Adopt-A-Family Holiday Support

Soldier’s Angels provide aid, comfort, and resources to the military community. Through their Adopt-A-Family program, you can provide gifts and a grocery gift card for a military family in your community, just filter by zip code, city, or state.

Send a Card

Send a heartfelt card or handmade letter to a Veteran or Service member this season. Participate in the Military Card Challenge or send Hanukkah cards through The Jewish Soldiers Project (contact: jewishsoldiersproject@gmail.com)

Volunteer to Feed Veterans

Brought to you by the Soldier’s Angels organization, you can volunteer to serve our military-connected community by assisting with food distribution events. The goal of these events is to provide groceries to low-income active-duty Service members, Guardsmen, Reservists, Veterans, and their families. These events are sponsored by local businesses and organizations and are made possible with help from volunteers. This program is offered in the following cities:

  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Charleston, South Carolina
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Detroit, Michigan
  • Orlando, Florida
  • San Antonio, Texas

If you don’t see a city near you don’t worry, make a meal for a military member you know, so you can share in the joy of good food and good company.

The collaborative efforts between the Department of Defense (DOD) and global organizations have provided invaluable support systems, established enduring traditions, and provided essential services that alleviate the burdens faced by civilians, Service members, and their families during the holiday season. These initiatives and celebrations have woven a framework of compassion, resilience, and community, fostering unity among diverse families connected by the common thread of service to their nations. These endeavors not only recognize the sacrifices made by military personnel but also extend their embrace to the families and communities that stand with them. From our home at Military REACH to yours, we hope you have a happy holiday season and a prosperous New Year!

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