Avoid holiday blues

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Maj.) James Janecek
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Chapel
When I was 18 years old, having just graduated from high school, I enlisted in the Army. Until that time, I had never stepped foot out of my home state of Texas, except for an occasional trip to a Mexican border town for some shopping and lunch with my family or friends.

I vividly remember my first Thanksgiving in the Army while stationed at Fort Jackson S. C., far away from my family and friends. I was living in the dorms. As Thanksgiving rapidly approached, I was becoming more and more bummed out. I kept thinking, what am I going to do for Thanksgiving? My mind kept flashing memories of previous Thanksgivings with my family.

Since my mom was an only child, my maternal grandparents always came to the house across the harbor bridge from Corpus Christi to our nearby town of Portland on the Gulf of Mexico. Throughout the day, relatives and friends would pop in to celebrate Thanksgiving by catching up on each others' latest news and tease one another as we snacked on plenty of home-cooked food, most of which were made from special family recipes that had been handed down from generation to generation. My mom's chocolate pecan pie was my favorite. While savoring each forkful of pie, I often had the pleasure of my grandpa entertaining us by getting under my dad's stoic skin. As my dad would stomp off perturbed but knowing it was only a game, my grandpa would flash a mischievous smile at us kids and we'd exchange a moment of laughter. It was all in good-natured family love.

Amidst all of the commotion of family and friends chatting, eating and drinking, the television was always on as well. Watching our beloved Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day was a sacred tradition in our household.

Thanksgiving Day was a day of family tradition that ran deep in my veins, and now I was going to be all alone in this strange place called Fort Jackson, which was supposed to be my new home even though I had only been there a few months and had not a single family member within the entire state.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving, a junior NCO with whom I worked graciously invited me to spend Thanksgiving Day with him and his wife at their small apartment located just outside the front gate of Fort Jackson. They had invited a few others as well. With his determination and my desperation, I finally decided to go.

My first Thanksgiving away from my family and outside of Texas definitely was not even close to being like back home. In fact nothing in the future will ever be able to duplicate those family Thanksgivings that are now cherished as wonderful memories.

The junior NCO and his wife along with the other guests were welcoming and hospitable. I quickly learned that those of us wearing the same military uniform and their dependents automatically have an unspoken bond akin to being family, even if some of my new "family members" were Washington Redskins fans.

Fast forward many years later and I now have a family called the Air Force with whom I live overseas in Germany. Thanksgiving in this foreign land marks the advent of cold, dark, and wet winter months, a stark contrast to weather in south Texas, and even South Carolina.

Before my wife Lilly and I arrived to Spangdahlem a few months ago, I was warned that the days of winter in this part of Germany are usually short on sunlight and long on wet and cold.

I found this hard to believe once I arrived in July because I arrived to find a gorgeous Eifel region that was full of sunshine and perfect temperatures.

When we arrived I was like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting to open Christmas gifts, as I couldn't wait for my household goods to arrive---my Harley Davidson was in there and I was eager to ride around this part of Germany during such perfect riding weather and ideal riding places.

In the Eifel region, the average day in July is around 16 hours long. That was plenty of time to be outside not only riding a motorcycle, but also hiking, bicycling, and other adventures we are privileged to enjoy while stationed at Spangdahlem.

Now contrast that with the winter months---in December the average number of hours between sunrise and sunset is eight, half the time of summer months. Perhaps even more significant is that the cold winter days typically consist of little sunshine and lots of cloudy, hazy, foggy, wet skies.

Consuming mass quantities of turkey, ham, sweet potato casserole, cranberries, eggnog, and chocolate pecan pie doesn't guarantee we'll make it happily through the dark winter holiday season at Spangdahlem.

What does make all the difference in the world are meaningful, fulfilling relationships based on trust, hope and love that we as a military community can celebrate during the holidays. These essential relationships are beacons of light for us when we are consumed by the dark, dreary winter months and holiday blues. Like a flashlight that you turn on in a completely dark place, relationships of trust, hope, and love illuminate and brighten our lives so we can overcome the darkness.

I was taught and used to think that a life of trust, hope, and love means a bright life free from darkness and despair. The reality is, however, that trust, hope, and love don't eliminate their opposites; rather, they transform and overcome them.

It was not until I experienced my first year away from my family and friends in November, that I truly appreciated and saw that what makes Thanksgiving meaningful and fulfilling are the powerful relationships of trust, hope, and love, which my family and friends celebrate on that day, not the chocolate pecan pie. I'm very thankful for the cold, dark, dreary winter months that are upon us at Spangdahlem, as I'm sure they will highlight relationships of trust, hope, and love that I see as the true meaning and fulfillment of the winter holiday season.