In this blog Reading force founder Alison Baverstock reflects on Christmas in the military and eclectic Christmas tree decorations!
I don’t come from a military family. As a child, listening to ‘Two-way family favourites’ on the radio, I remember being fascinated by the messages sent by Forces families. They always seemed to be longing for Christmas – when they would next all be together. But what a long time to wait!
Now, looking back on thirty years as a Forces family, the Christmases really do stand out. Rather than merging into one, I can still date them by looking at the location of the photographs. It was very rare to have Christmas in the same place twice.
Whereas civilian families may be turn-taking (‘you were with them last year, so it’s our turn this year’) military families’ planning tends to be both much more long- and short-term. Long-term when you know your partner is going to be deployed over Christmas, so you need something in the diary to look forward to. Short-term because moves often tended to take place at Christmastime and destinations – both where you were going and where a quarter was available – would regularly change. We never knew quite where we would be until we arrived.
The range of our Christmas experiences will hopefully ensure our four children don’t assume there is only one way to celebrate! This has helped them be flexible as they became partners themselves – and had to blend their Christmas-traditions with those of new relatives.
They experienced our first Christmas in Germany, when my newly widowed mother and my brother came to stay. We loved the snow, the Christmas markets and the sight of small children (including ours) in snowsuits on merry-go-rounds. After the slow decline of my father, the long-distance ordeal of being there for both his final days, and then his funeral, it felt so good to be doing something different for Christmas that year.
There was the Christmas when we were due to leave Northern Ireland on 28th December. With an impending move we could house neither visitors nor leftovers, and so rather spent Christmas playing with the kids and eating everything up! Very simplifying.
We’ve got used to sending out our Christmas cards at the very beginning of December, in order to let people know our new address, and it’s a habit I can’t now break (or if I do, I just feel disorganised). And our Christmas tree has decorations from wherever we have lived – each with a precious memory attached. I shall never be tempted by a ‘designer tree’ that has a rigid colour scheme or only includes one type of decoration.
Watching the Queen’s speech has always been a key part of our Christmas, and her regular mention – in either words or pictures – of the Forces always felt personal.
Wherever you are spending Christmas, I wish you joy and anticipation for the year ahead. Let’s hope what will now be The King’s Speech also gives a shout-out for military families.