We’ve all heard the phrase there’s no place like home for the holidays. Well, how do you handle the holidays when a piece of your “home” is halfway across the world? Unfortunately, this is a very real experience for families of military Service members. Although many military families are away from their loved ones this time of year, there are, thankfully, many ways families can develop and strengthen their support systems to ensure the holidays are still a special experience. In this article, we will discuss social support, the influence it has on families during the holiday season, as well as different ways the community and military families can build and strengthen support systems.
WHAT IS SOCIAL SUPPORT AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Individual people are inherently connected to the communities in which they live. Social connections to others in the community
support people in leading healthier, happier lives; hence, the term social support.
For example, a recent study showed that simply having coffee socials for military Veterans to mingle with their peers helped those Veterans to form meaningful friendships, feel greater purpose in life, and even access programs to meet their everyday needs (such as housing or medical services). Although the coffee socials were originally organized by a civilian facilitator, Veterans became increasingly involved and were eventually facilitating the socials independently! Opportunities for social support helped these Veterans, but, perhaps more importantly, they were motivated to continue these events because they recognized how helpful this kind of social support could be for others. This is a great example of how both civilian and military communities can come together to support Service members, Veterans, and their families.
Although the holidays can be a difficult part of the year, when families have social support, they feel more connected to others and can enjoy the season more easily. Here are some fun holiday ideas that can help military families build their social support systems:
EVENTS ORGANIZED BY THE CIVILIAN COMMUNITY
With any event, ensure you are maintaining your state’s social distance laws/policies.
Organize a hot chocolate social
- Like the Veteran coffee socials, a hot chocolate social is a family-friendly activity that encourages community engagement.
Show a holiday movie at a local recreation center
- To make military families feel welcomed into the community, take a traditional family movie night and turn it into a community-wide event that specifically features military families as desired guests.
Host a “sponsor a military family” event
- Bring civilian community members together and sign up to bring local military families things they will need to help them celebrate the holidays, such as meals, gifts, and other holiday items.
WAYS MILITARY FAMILIES CAN BUILD SOCIAL SUPPORT
Attend religious services
- Just because the pandemic happened this year doesn’t mean religious ceremonies have stopped. Many organizations are beginning to offer in-person services; however, if you are uncomfortable attending in-person, find out which organizations are offering virtual services.
Join winter sports leagues
- Joining a winter sports league, like hockey/ice skating or basketball, can allow your children to exercise, while allowing you to connect with others in your community.
Participate in virtual caroling & tree lighting
- The holiday spirit can’t be stopped by the pandemic! Virtually gather your friends and turn on the holiday cheer by decorating for the holidays together. Maybe even virtually bake some cookies together or your favorite meals using video conferencing, such as FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, or Zoom!
Volunteer at the local food pantry
- Serving others is good for the soul! If you have the extra time, take your family to a food pantry or soup kitchen to volunteer. Your hearts will become warmed as you support and connect with members of your community.
Mail cookie decorating kits
- Cookie decorating!? Yes, please! Gather lots of sprinkles and colorful icings, make your favorite cookie recipe, and package it all up to send to your friends, particularly friends with young children. Cookie decorating kits are a great way to send holiday cheer if you can’t physically be with those near to your heart. Have them send you photos of the final products!