Thanksgiving Traditions for the Military Family

As we begin approaching the holidays, it’s important to understand how being in the military can alter some of the more “traditional” Thanksgiving celebrations. Whether they are stationed overseas, spending the holidays apart from the service member, or just arriving in a new place, celebrating Thanksgiving can take on a whole new meaning to military families. Military life can also inspire some new family traditions

Here are a few of the many ways military families celebrate Thanksgiving across the globe.

Thanksgiving Traditions for Military Families

Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Celebrations

Non-Traditional Meals

While most are eating the usual turkey and stuffing meal, many military families opt for a meal that combines the many cultures they have been exposed to during their time in service. Seni, a Navy wife in Virginia cooks “pernil, a slow-roasted pork shoulder and pasteles with rice and beans.” She explains that this recipe is one her “grandmother used to make, then her mother took over, and now she makes it.” It requires “marinating for a day or so. Then, you cook it for 10-11 hours.”

Daniel, a Navy spouse located in NC makes a “deboned, rolled up turkey” every year. This dish was inspired by a You Tube video that challenged his cooking and knife skills. He explains “I followed the instructions on a couple of chickens first and learned how to do it. Then, two Thanksgivings ago, I tried it on a big turkey. It was a big success and now my family requests it.”

Competitive Sports

Melissa, a Navy wife in Florida states that her family has “an annual Thanksgiving Day Bowl, where they do sack races, three-legged race, spoon carry, scooter races, and corn hole tournaments. The winning family gets the annual turkey trophy and bragging rights.” This tradition brings in some competitive fun for families.

5K Races

Some families prefer to get their exercise in before the big meal. All across the country, 5K races the morning of Thanksgiving are gaining popularity and many military families enjoy being active in fitness together. To find a Turkey Trot race near you, click here.

Thanksgiving traditions

Giving Back by Volunteering

There are many ways military families volunteer on Thanksgiving Day. Many find it humbling to volunteer in a local soup kitchen, while others serve directly to their units by cooking meals for single soldiers and others who are far from family.

Miranda, an Air Force wife in Mississippi explains “we usually ask people from our squadron to come eat if they don’t have anywhere to go. Even if it is just coming to eat and leave. We’re already making a lot of food, so why not share?” Military families have such a spirit of giving. It’s as if this lifestyle of service runs continuously through their blood and being.

Carol, an Army wife in Virginia shares that she “volunteers every Thanksgiving, even while traveling. She was inspired by her cousin five years ago, who volunteers with HIV positive families.” This year, Carol will be donating five turkey dinners to that organization.

Sharing a Meal with Friends

Those who live far from relatives share the holidays with local friends, who may also be spending the holidays away from family. This is especially common for families stationed overseas. The friends they have made overseas become so much like a family, they often call the holiday Friendsgiving. Sharing a meal together during the holidays brings a familiar sense of comfort and joy when family is far away.

Regardless of how you celebrate Thanksgiving, whether traditionally or nontraditionally, the important thing is “togetherness,” which is a constant theme in many of the traditions in this post. Military families know how the importance of having a village, no matter where this life takes them.

Thanksgiving traditions

A very special thanks goes to the Military Spouse Executive Assistants at Squared Away who contributed to this post.

Written by Wendi Iacobello

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