Embracing Others Can Help Boost Your Holiday Spirit

By Rachel Royal

Holidays were never a big deal for my family when I was growing up. We never put up a Christmas tree, never had extended family over for dinner, never put up Christmas lights. However, November and December have always been one of my favorite times of year, as there is something magical about the lights and the general excitement of the holidays. Living in the mountains where there was snow a good deal of the winter probably also lent to the ambience. After becoming an adult and getting married, my husband and I have worked to create our own holiday traditions, although they have changed over the years. Because neither of our families does much to celebrate the holidays, we have had to adapt and either make the most of them with our little family or celebrate with friends.

Since I was fourteen, I have lived in the vicinity of Camp Lejeune (Jacksonville, NC). Consequently, many of the friends I have made over the years have been affiliated with the military. I have said good-bye to more friends than I can count when they have moved on to the next duty station, but each one of them holds a special place in my heart. One of the things that has always struck me about the military lifestyle is the resilience it requires. Individuals who serve in the armed forces, and those who sacrifice as their spouses, children, and extended families often spend the holidays away from the ones they love the most. Countless births, birthdays, anniversaries, and other important life events are missed, but the holidays are especially difficult.

My husband and I have spent more than one Thanksgiving with young, unmarried Marines at our table because they were unable to go home for the holiday. There is something both heart-wrenching and fulfilling about seeing a 20-something young man eating turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and all the fixings, exclaiming it’s the best meal he’s had since he left home. These are some of my favorite holiday memories. I have also witnessed young military families who are unable to travel back to their respective families but band together with other young families on base and celebrate the holidays together. They connect on a level that most civilians cannot, and therefore, they are like family.

My best friend’s husband is in the Army reserves, and he has missed the births of two of his four biological children, multiple birthdays, and several holidays due to being deployed. In their ten years of marriage, he has spent close to half that time (maybe more) either away at training or overseas. Thankfully, for the past two years, he has been home for Thanksgiving, and my husband and I and our kids spent the holiday cooking and eating at their home in Southport with them and their five children (all of whom are my god-children).

Christmas, on the other hand, tends to be my lonely holiday. For the last two years, I have spent Christmas Eve volunteering at church for the Christmas Eve service, which was amazing. On the other hand, the day of Christmas can tend to be a bit of a letdown because we do not have any other family with us, and it seems the entirety of our community is shut down and having fun with large groups of loved ones. It is easy to feel that we are the only ones lonely when we are isolated, but I then remember all of the military members, as well as other members of the community, who do not (or cannot) spend the holidays with family. I also keep in mind that family is what we make it. Friends and church family are an invaluable part of our lives.

This year, our Christmas is going to look a little different. Since we have spent the last several years volunteering and staying at home, we decided to go on a short vacation for Christmas. We will be staying in a cabin near Lake Lure and visiting McAdenville (a.k.a., Christmas Town USA), as well as Asheville while we are there. Our boys are excited for the adventure, as it’s been a while since we’ve taken a real vacation, and we are hoping to see some snow since that is a rarity on the coast.

If you tend to have a lonely experience for the holidays, my heart is with you. Nevertheless, I would encourage you to get involved in your community. I find it is easier not to focus on our own loneliness if we are outpouring into others’ lives. Look for holiday events in your community. Organize a Friendsgiving or a holiday party and invite people from work, school, church, or even a lonely neighbor. Attend a Christmas Eve service, or volunteer at your church. Lend a hand at a holiday food drive or a shelter. There are countless things you can do to give to others and beat your own holiday blues. Whatever your Christmas plans are, I hope you find meaning and joy in your activities. If you are missing a loved one due to their military service, I thank you for your sacrifice, as well as that of your servicemember.

Happy Holidays!


Rachel Royal is a State Bar Certified Paralegal for the Wilmington City Attorney’s office. She supports two attorneys who handle city Police, Fire, Litigation, and Employment and also teaches part-time at Cape Fear Community College. She lives in Hampstead, NC with her husband, Reuben, and their children, Phoenix and Christian. Mrs. Royal grew up in the Appalachian Mountains and enjoys reading, writing, cooking, music, weightlifting, and outdoor activities. She graduated with honors from Carteret Community College in May 2017 as the Paralegal Technology Graduate of the Year. She has been involved with the Paralegal Division since 2015 as a student member, won the NCBA Paralegal Student scholarship in 2016, and has been a Council Member and Pro Bono Co-Chair since May 2018. Mrs. Royal’s goal as a division member is to inspire paralegals to feel pride in their career and promote involvement in pro bono services across the state.