6 Ways to Make Holiday Magic as a First Responder Family

6 Ways to Make Holiday Magic as a First Responder Family

Medical emergencies and crime don’t take a day off. So what do we as first responder families do about that when the holidays come up?

When I was growing up, my mom worked in the ICU at a hospital, and my dad was a police officer. They didn’t get time off around the holidays. In fact, we were lucky if they even had the same day off around the holidays!

One of the important things to remember is that YOU get to bring the magic of the holidays to life in a way that will bring your family closer together, in a way that civilian families actually miss out on because they are having to adjust their schedules to what other people say. 

But how? How do we bring the magic when we don’t have the normal schedule? 


Here are 6 ways you can create magic in your first responder family holiday season:

  1. Have a "Family Gratitude Pumpkin".
  2. Use Santa's "Christmas Challenge Coin" to let Santa know you all are home.
  3. Open up stockings together in bed.
  4. Use a special First Responder Menorah.
  5. Unwrap one book each night about your holiday.
  6. Give back to people in need.


1. Have a "Family Gratitude Pumpkin".

I saw this one on Pinterest. You can see the original blog from Passion for Savings here

We started this one this year and my kiddos are loving it! Each day, we write something we are grateful for.

My husband and I are currently working opposite schedules and are not home at the same time each night before the kiddos go to bed. So we each lead it in different ways, but the kids just love the pumpkin!

My 6 year old decided to draw pictures, and then asked me to write the name underneath the drawing. 

My 3 year old, she just scribbles. But hey, she likes it!

The cool thing about this pumpkin is that you can share it with other family members as you visit with them!

If you go to Grammy’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving on the 23rd, but then don’t see Grandpa or Uncle Zack until the 28th, everyone can still participate! And it is fun to see what everyone shares on the pumpkin at the end of the month. 

A wonderful reminder to be grateful for what we have.


2. Use Santa's "Christmas Challenge Coin" to let Santa know you all are home.

I heard about this tradition back when my husband was in the academy, one of the long-time officer’s wives I had spoken to shared it with me.

What you do is get a special Christmas challenge coin (we use this one here). This is better for your kiddos who understand that Christmas is on December 25th, but you as a family are celebrating on a different day. 

You tell your kiddos that Santa sent a special coin to your family because of mommy or daddy’s job. Santa doesn’t want your family member to miss out on a special Christmas celebration! 

When your family is all home, you put the challenge coin in the window to let Santa know that you are all home to celebrate together. And then he will leave the special gifts for the kiddos under the tree that night. 

What a sweet way to let your kiddos still enjoy the magic of Christmas!


3. Open up stockings in bed together.

Maybe your kiddos are beyond the Santa stage, but you still want to keep the traditions special. 

Instead of having the stockings in the living room, have the stockings hung at the bottom of your bed. 

Then, when everyone is home, you all can open up the stockings together in the comfort of your room. Not worried about other family who don’t get to celebrate all at the same time. 

A tradition of some quality time as a family. In a sweet and different way. 

And this is great for couples who don’t have children, it’s just the two of you cozy in bed exchanging the fun little gifts in the stockings!


4. Use a special First Responder Menorah.

Christmas is not the only winter holiday celebrated by first responders! 

With Chanukah being celebrated over eight days, it is a little bit easier to have the responder participate in some of the celebratory nights.

But what about the nights when the responder is gone? 

One little tradition you can add for your younger kiddos is to have a First Responder Menorah (Or, if you are a fire family, here is a cool Fire Engine Menorah).

Having this little piece for your children can help them feel that the responder is still celebrating with them, even though they are at work. 

If your responder is gone when you light the shamash candle, you can also talk with your little one about how your responder is a helper or servant in the world, and use this fun menorah to engage them in the conversation.

What a magical way to keep your family together without physically being together each night!


5. Unwrap one book each night about your holiday.

This one can apply to any holiday you may be celebrating, whether it is Kwanzaa, Christmas, Chanukah, Winter Soltice, or even one of the years when Eid al-Fitr lands in the winter! (Actually, you don’t need to wait for the winter for Eid al-Fitr, just when your family celebrates the holiday!)

What you need are some children’s books about your holiday.

Wrap each book individually. 

On the days leading up to your holiday, you unwrap one book each night and read it together. 

You don’t all have to be together each night to read the books, just one book each night with whichever parent or caregiver is home with the kiddos. 

Similar to the Gratitude Pumpkin above, this tradition can also include other family members as you celebrate the holiday with extended family! 

For the less common holidays, it may be more challenging to find books you like. With this tradition, for me personally, quality is much more important than quantity! So don’t buy 25-30 books if they aren’t good quality for you and your family!

For you LEO families, you gotta check out this book, I LOVE it! The Midnight Shift Before Christmas!


6. Give back to people in need.

Whether it is through your department, or a local church, or even just a mail-in program, have your family work together to give back to those in need. 

A couple of programs you can look into:

Angel Tree, a Christian-based program through Prison Fellowship, provides Christmas presents to children whose parents are incarcerated. This program provides an opportunity to share God's love with children and their parents, to help break the cycle that children can fall into.

Operation Christmas Child, a Christian-based program through Samaritan’s Purse, is where you fill a shoebox with gifts for a child in need in an underdeveloped country. Many local churches participate in this one together.

Hannukah Gelt, a Jewish-based campaign through Masbia, allows you to donate to families in need so they can celebrate Hannukah with gifts, donuts, and latkas. Their focus is on providing food to families in need.

Chanukah Gift Drive, a Jewish-based program through JAFCO, has children of needy families fill out wish lists and allows you to fulfill the wish during the drive. This way you know that what you are giving the child is something they will appreciate and enjoy!

Compassion International is a Christian-based organization where you can sponsor a child from anywhere in the world. During the holidays, you and your family can create a special care package (make sure you read Compassion’s guidelines!) with letters and drawings for your sponsored child, letting your kids feel connected with this child. We love our little girl, Linet in Kenya! She is our family!

I highly recommend looking into your local Salvation Army! My favorite Christmas in high school we spent delivering Christmas meals to people in need in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. No crazy presents and holiday chaos, just giving food to people who didn’t have anyone to celebrate the holidays with. The smiles and joy people gave us, and the world that was very different than our own, gave my family and I one-of-a-kind memories to cherish. I will never forget it!

You can also check with the local departments to see if they have ways of giving back to the community. My dad's department would host "Shop with a Cop" where the needy families in the community would meet with the police officers and their families at a store and the POA would pay for the children to select their own gifts. 

The department would also sponsor local seniors through "Senior Center's Angel Tree". The senior citizens would fill out their needs or wants and place the card on a tree. The officer would grab a card or two and shop with their families to fulfill the card and then deliver the gifts to the seniors. 


The holidays don’t have to lose the traditions, the magic, or the quality just because it is different than other families. 

I can tell you, looking back on my childhood holidays, I may have missed out on big family celebrations some years. I may have had a couple holidays with only one parent

But I don’t remember those.

I remember the fun!

I remember doing things with my immediate family that we didn’t do with grandparents or cousins, and I loved it! 

So if you are worried about your child feeling like they missed out on holidays, on celebrations, or on the magic of the season, I am here to tell you otherwise.

Your child’s holidays will not be ruined because they are different.

They will be that much more special! Trust me, I lived it!

Your family can enjoy a holiday filled with love and fun


Bring on the magic!



Take care, friends!

Alisha Sweyd




Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

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