For most people, Christmas is a magical season when we gather with family and friends, receive gifts, and worship together. Yet sometimes the season doesn’t work out the way that we plan. It is times like these when we must decide what’s really important. If deploying with the Army has taught me anything, it is that we can celebrate Christmas anywhere.

Everyone I know who celebrates the Christmas season does so in slightly different ways. Most decorate trees, some go without. Some put up their trees on Christmas Eve and leave them up until January, some put them up after Thanksgiving and take them down the week after Christmas. Some get large trees, some small. Some decorate with lights or ornaments, some don’t. Some put up holly or evergreen branches, some don’t. Some go to church services or caroling, and some just drive around and look at Christmas lights. Some sing traditional carols, and some listen to more modern music. Some send Christmas cards, and many don’t. Some give many gifts, and some give just one. Everyone has their own traditions and rituals for how they celebrate the Christmas season.

The problem comes when you don’t get to celebrate Christmas the way that you normally do or go where you normally go. Maybe they don’t have the kind of tree you normally have, or your favorite ornaments break. Maybe your job or personal life interferes with your plans. You don’t have time to send cards or go to the service you normally do. Maybe you’re out of work and can’t buy the same level or types of gifts that you usually do. Maybe weather intervenes and keeps you from looking at lights or signing carols, or you are unable to visit family because of work conflicts. We never know what is going to happen to wreck our plans. Do we get angry when this happens? Or are we disappointed? It may not seem like Christmas because we’ve been unable to do what we normally do, and we get upset.

If there’s one thing that deployments have taught me, it’s that you can celebrate Christmas anywhere. Many people were upset because of being away from home during the holidays, and even the most experienced were a little sad. Family members try to cheer you up by sending wrapped gifts, cards, or decorations. It was not the same, but I was able to make my hooch seem a little festive. My mother always sent brandy-soaked homemade fruitcake, which we shared around to those who had a taste for it. My units always tried to cheer people by decorating, putting up a tree, and doing a gift exchange. The bases we were only always decorated the dining facility and put on a holiday meal, and the chapels had Christmas services, which all but the most hardened atheists attended. And there was always the hour-long ubiquitous phone call home (usually late at night because of the time difference) to talk to everyone for at least a few minutes.

Despite the hardships of not being at home and getting to do the things I wanted, I always seemed to have a good Christmas. The few gifts and cards we received were more precious, the meals better tasting, the voices of loved ones more appreciated, and the songs we sang more moving because they were all we had. When your horizons are limited, it’s then that you most enjoy the view. It was at those times that I realized that Christmas isn’t about the traditions, the decorations, or even being with family. It’s about celebrating the coming of Christ, and He is as present in foreign lands as He is at home. While the traditions, decorations, and family help us with this celebration, ultimately none of these are necessary to remember the reason for the season. In fact, you need not do anything or go anywhere specific because you can celebrate Christmas anywhere you happen to be.

Things may not be going exactly as planned this Christmas. You may be struggling with working or not working. Or maybe circumstances are keeping you from being where you want to be. Remember that Christmas is about more than traditions and decorations. You still have time to prioritize what’s important – the reason for the season. You can celebrate Christmas anywhere.

© 2022 J.D. Manders