There may be nothing lonelier than to be stationed at a faraway military base at Christmastime. Not only do you miss your family and friends, but also you miss the familiar traditions that make Christmas such a meaningful time of year.
However, American troops have found both traditional and creative ways to honor Christmas no matter where they may find themselves on December 25. They don Santa hats, decorate Christmas trees, and sing holiday carols. They also decorate their living areas for the holiday. However, nativity sets have become somewhat controversial in recent years.
For example, in 2013, commanders of a U.S. Air Forces base in South Carolina removed a nativity scene after a pressure from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).
MRFF’s Mikey Weinstein argued that a nativity scene displayed at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C. violated both military code and the U.S. Constitution. The group lodged a complaint with the Pentagon, and the nativity scene was removed within 48 hours.
“I don’t know where a plastic baby Jesus could cause such emotional distress on somebody that they would want to get involved with the military freedom folks and then have that removed,” said one U.S. veteran, John Sammons, in an interview with WLTX-TV, a local station. “Many have died overseas today for the right for your religious freedom and it breaks my heart.”
In 2012, an atheist group attempted to block a live nativity for soldiers stationed in at a U.S. Navy base in Bahrain. However, as the Christian Post reported, it eventually was rescheduled and held on Christmas Eve that year.
The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) argued that the live nativity performance, which was originally set to be held at the U.S. military base’s tree-lighting ceremony, threatened the safety of service members in the Muslim-majority country. MAAF also stated that the live nativity, which had been held in 2010 and 2011, promoted “Christianity as the official religion of the base.”
The MAAF also made formal objections to Christmas events at Army bases in Honolulu, Hawaii and in Fort Belvoir, Va. in 2012. The group maintains that Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and other secular holiday celebrations are not a problem, but that Nativity scenes appear to endorse Christian doctrine. Similar controversies have played out on city and state properties across the United States, and the Supreme Court has even ruled on this matter in terms of the First Amendment.
“It is dishonest for the command to attempt to advertise the event as a ‘holiday’ activity when it is so clearly and exclusively biased toward Christianity,” stated the MAAF official complaint. “Also of concern is the likelihood that the predominantly Muslim local population will see the U.S. military as a Christian force rather than as a secular military … in their Muslim country.”
The rescheduled live Nativity performance was held at the base chapel and was open to all Navy personnel. All participants were volunteers, and all props and costumes were either donated or made from recycled materials.
How Can You Help?
If you would like to help make Christmas a little brighter for a U.S. service man or service woman, there are many ways to help.
Here are a few organizations to consider:
Holidays for Heroes – Formerly Holiday Mail for Heroes, this Red Cross program sponsors a variety of activities that recognize members of the U.S. military and U.S. veterans. Contact your local Red Cross office for details.
Email Our Military matches civilians with service personnel for the purpose of sending them encouraging emails, cards, letters and care packages both during the holidays and year-round. Visit http://www.emailourmilitary.com
Trees for Troops, part of the Christmas Spirit Foundation, offers fresh farm-grown Christmas Trees to members of the U.S. military and their families, through donations, sponsorships, grants and volunteer hours. Visit http://www.christmasspiritfoundation.org.
Operation Christmas Spirit “adopts” military families each year by providing gifts, gift cards and unit holiday parties so that they can celebrate the joy of Christmas. Visit this website for more information.
The Military Postal Service Agency is an extension of the U.S. Postal Service that aims to make sure that holiday cards and packages sent to military personnel arrive in time for Christmas. Here are some of the agency’s guidelines.
- Packages to military APO, FPO and DPO addresses sent by Parcel Post must be mailed by Nov. 12.
- Space-available mail – SAM – should be sent by Nov. 26. SAM packages have to be less than 15 pounds and 60 inches in combined length and girth.
- Parcel airlift mail, or PAL, deadline is Dec. 3. PAL service is space-available air transportation for parcels up to 30 pounds and 60 inches in combined length and girth.
- First class (priority mail) letters, cards and packages must be mailed by Dec. 10, except for AE 093, which must be sent by Dec. 3 to ensure on-time delivery.
- The express mail deadline is Dec. 17 (except for APO/FPO/DPO AE 093 where it is unavailable).