Juggling the Holidays- A Firefighter Family Guide

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Not all First Responders get to be at home on Christmas Day.

It’s just a fact of life when you live this lifestyle!

Thankfully we have many solutions for helping family with the change in tradition and creating a new normal with this life.

It’s how we keep the world moving, and firefighters, along with their cohort of first responders, are no stranger to missing events.

This doesn’t always mean that it’s a walk in the park for those people to leave their family and traditions behind. No, it is certainly a sacrifice when plans get changed, especially year after year. And yeah… the holidays for first responders are stressful!

What about the Kids?

What our littlest humans don’t understand is when a family member, particularly a close one like mom or dad, has to miss out on the holiday festivities due to work.

This is especially true for our fire family, as many shift rotations call for working on the day before or day of a special event each year.

Some of the newer staff members can even work holidays every time those first few years to build up seniority. Other departments have a lottery or swap system- and lets just be honest, some firemen are just plain unlucky when it comes to time off!

So if you’re stuck in another year of Holiday rearrangements, or this is your first year on scene (check out my helpful thoughts on that first Christmas for the new fire wife), don’t sweat it.

Countless other families have been in this same situation and there’s a lot that can be done to help the Christmas season go smoothly!

What can the First Responder’s Family Do?

First things first, communicate among the adults in the household so you have a game plan, and here are some great ideas to have with that plan!

Don’t just assume that the pieces will ‘fall into place’ or that your first responder has a plan. If you haven’t discussed it, nothing will be done according to your expectations.

Make it extra special

Is there an extra special gift or event that you can go to? This is a smooth way to soften the blow, like a positivity sandwich. Here’s how it works


Step 1: Tell the kids you love them, but
Step 2: Dad/mom has to work on this holiday
Step 3: so we are going to celebrate by doing something special!


Sometimes that not available, or a little harder to do when you have small kids.

Don’t discount the small things though, remembering a favorite dessert or staying up past their bed time for a seasonal movie can be very impactful!

This last year I did small stocking stuffers every shift day, and the Christmas before it I did books leading up to the big day. It doesn’t take much to get kids excited, just some extra planning.

Celebrate a day early

This may sound like a no brainer, because it kinda is, but it can also be a hard pill to swallow if you are very dedicated to a specific day.

I understand, many of us have traditions that call for celebrations and it means a lot to us.

Celebrating a day early can be a great option to preserving traditions without sacrificing the firefighters presence, it can also mean that extra celebrations are done on the day of, while the family is apart.

We have done this option and it tends to be a lot of fun, we loved getting presents a day early!

Then the kids are entertained with their new toys on shift day. Plus, if you have young kids (like I do) they don’t actually know what day it is!

I may use that to my advantage, they can’t read a calendar anyways…

Get up early to celebrate before firefighter leaves for work

Some folks don’t like to do it the day before, so the other option is to get up early before Firefighter has to go!

We had considered this option, and it is definitely something we are going to remember when our kids are older. Hopefully this doesn’t mean like 3 am, but if it does, I hope you have some amazing coffee and nap time for the kids planned out!

Get other family involved so the kids have distractions

When you love your family, you love your family! This means spending time with the in-laws, out-laws, grandparents and cousins. It can also be whatever family you love, like those friends that we couldn’t live without.

Get them in on the celebrations this year to help with the absence of your first responder and you might be surprised at how much extra family can contribute to your holiday season!

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    Santa is a firefighter

    Let’s just be honest, even though we know the secret of Santa, there is some anxiety in keeping it alive for our kids- especially when something threatens that reality (like having to work on Christmas). Some of the things you can do for Santa’s special arrangements are:

    –  Give them this letter from Santa (it’s a free printable!) to explain the date change. 

    -When the kids do their wishlists, have them write a special letter to Santa explaining the situation.

    That their Firefighter has to work on Christmas, they will be at the station and that Santa will need to bring their gifts early.

    This can be done after you already prompted them on what Santa might do, then provide them the opportunity so that they can tell him.

    Bonus points if you can get the “Real Santa” in on the charade, it doesn’t take much for someone to dress up in a Santa suit!

    >-Another option that works well, especially if you are too busy to write letters is to have Mom, Dad, or Grandma meet with Santa and let them know that they need to bring the gifts early.

    This takes all of 5 minutes of your time and will satisfy inquiring questions from little minds.

    >- Give Santa a call. Have it prearranged to call Santa and tell him everything that is changing with your first responders schedule.

    >-If you have older kids you can explain to older kids that your firefighter is keeping other people safe and they are part of Santa’s team.

    How cool right! So since they are helping Santa by keeping everyone safe, Santa already knows when and where the presents need to go and where you’ll be that night.

    What about Holiday Dinners with our First Responders?

    Hmmm Food.

    Wherever you are from and whatever dietary preferences you have, food is good stuff!

    Add in a hungry firefighter, some family and the Holidays and you’ve got a party!

    Holiday meals are normally a fun time for all involved, and they don’t have to change too much with a work schedule getting in the way.

    Many families find that they are able to schedule their big cookouts on different days, especially when other member work shift work.

    Another good option to think about is just having two family meals.

    One can be with your first responder and the other can be with your other family, (Which might work out nice if there are some family squabbles. Can anyone say, ‘peaceful thanksgiving’!)

    If you have the opportunity, my favorite dinner is the one we have at the station while the Firefighters are on shift.

    It’s this fun, haphazard, untraditional get together with people that your firefighter spends a lot of time with, and it can be great for the whole big family to get to get together.

    Sometimes our first responders have extra special assignments over the holidays and they may be gone for weeks or months at a time. No worries!

    You can still celebrate thanksgiving and Christmas a month or two late- after all, its the family that really matters. Don’t be afraid to make those memories regardless of the time frame.

    It will be something you are glad you did when you look back over the years.

    Regardless of where your firefighter is this holiday season

    Regardless of where your first responder is this holiday season, I hope that you are able to find a happy medium and enjoy this latest season of your life!

    When you are married to or related to a dedicated medical professional it is not always an easy task, especially when you now have to juggle their second family they inherited with the job.

    This Christmas season, think about the memories you want to make and how you want to look back on this time of your life. I hope you make the most of it and fill it with lots of love and family!

    If you are looking for a way to help reduce the stress of this holiday madness, check out my helpful guide! It could be the key to a smooth winter season.

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    1 thought on “Juggling the Holidays- A Firefighter Family Guide”

    1. I love this. We’ve been at this with our kids for the last 5 years. It’s been an adjustment but our holidays are no less special because of things you mentioned. Thanks for sharing.

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