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How to Create Thanksgiving Traditions as a Military Family

23 November 2022 by

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, one of my favorite holidays.  Thanksgiving is not all about the turkey, it's about the meaning behind the holiday that I love.  Thanksgiving is a time of year to reflect on your life and all you have to be thankful for.  It is a day of thanks and togetherness celebrated with a feast, what could be better!

Thanksgiving can sometimes be a difficult holiday for military families and single servicemembers because it's often a reminder of how much you miss your family and friends back at home.  Further, military families may be facing deployment during the holidays which is extremely challenging. Traveling for the holidays can be very expensive and is often not an option for many people. Thanksgiving can be a very difficult time during these circumstances.

After all, Thanksgiving is about togetherness, right?  So, how do you create family tradition and sense of togetherness when you are far apart from the ones that you love?

Here are four suggestions to help you and your family create family traditions and lasting memories no matter what military duty station you are stationed at. 


My husband and I always said that the military was our family away from family.  Being in the military, you often are surrounded with a group of people in the exact same situation as you are.  We have thoroughly enjoyed hosting Thanksgiving with fellow military families.  After all, Thanksgiving is about togetherness, right?  

If you are feeling down this Thanksgiving because you won't be able to surround yourself with your family.  Consider hosting a Thanksgiving meal at your house with fellow military members and their families.  It's a great way to create a new tradition and still enjoy the feeling of togetherness.  There is certainly a sense of comradery we have felt by hosting Friendsgiving. We have had many fond memories.

Ask everyone to bring their favorite Thanksgiving side dish.  I have found this to be fun because often many families have their own special side dish and traditions.  It's always fun to try new food!


Many people around the country face Thanksgiving alone without family whether you are military or not.  Some may not even have a Thanksgiving meal to enjoy.  It can be a great family tradition to be a part of spreading holiday cheer on Thanksgiving through volunteering or inviting a single servicemember to your home for a Thanksgiving meal.  What a great way to teach your children the true meaning of Thanksgiving and thankfulness.  

There are many organizations that offer Thanksgiving support in your community through volunteering opportunities to donating a meal to welcoming a servicemember into your home.  Here are a few to consider: 

  • Most bases have an Adopt a Servicemember Program for Thanksgiving.  How do you find out if your base offers any opportunities?  Some suggestions would be to contact your local MWR, USO center, Armed Service YMCA, or check with your unit. 
  • Check with your local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) as many offer free Thanksgiving meals for Military & Veterans. You could consider volunteering to help.
  • Many local churches support their local community with free meals for homeless on Thanksgiving.  Consider volunteering to help feed the homeless during Thanksgiving. 
  • Donate to Armed Services YMCA and help them provide Thanksgiving baskets to junior enlisted families in need. 
  • Operation Homefront offers Free Meals for the Holidays.  Every base has different eligibility requirements.  Consider volunteering to help pass out holiday meals. 
  • Donate to your local food bank.  Many grocery stores have donation opportunities available to help feed families in need. 
  • Donate a care package to the troops


I believe family tradition is essential. Take the day and make it all about family time.  Make it an electronic free day.  Whether you like a lazy Thanksgiving Day or like to plan some activities.  Create memories to last.  Here are some ideas for family fun:

  • Teach your children how to cook Thanksgiving dinner
  • Make it a game day--cards, board games, puzzles
  • Watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • Eat plenty early to allow time throughout the day for seconds and thirds
  • Watch Football
  • Eat round one, go for a nice long walk to prepare for round 2
  • Go to a movie
  • Gear up for Black Friday
  • Get a game of football or basketball going
  • Sign the family up for a Turkey Trot Fun Run
  • Enjoy a lazy day, one of the few days during the year you can relax 
  • Enjoy holiday lights if available where you are--use it as the kick off to the holiday season
  • Skype with family
  • Bing watch Christmas Story, The Grinch, Christmas Vacation and all your holiday favorites

(4) Thankfulness

Even though military life can sometimes be hard with frequent deployments and new military communities.  It is always important to remember what you are thankful for.  Take this day to discuss what you are thankful for with your family. 

The holidays can often be even more difficult for younger children that may be missing their parent deployed, grandma and grandpa or cousins living miles away.  But, it is important to talk about how thankful you are to have them in your life.  I have found that if we do the things that we can control such as make the phone call to say hello, make plans to get together with extended family, and create our own family traditions it makes it just a little bit easier for them.  

Take a minute at the dinner table and have everyone state what they are thankful for.  Or, have everyone write down three things they are thankful for and read them aloud.  It's a great tradition to have and puts life in perspective on what is important.

From our military family to yours, we wish you a relaxing, filling, and thankful Thanksgiving!

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