What To Do When The Christmas Roster is Crap.
Christmas rosters are starting to drop across the industry and you can hear the collective groans as families realise they're going to miss a series of special days with their loved ones. So how to you cope when the roster brings nothing but disappointment?
It's easy enough to say "just celebrate on a different day". But in reality, with days like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's when the rest of the country seems to be celebrating without you, that can be a little more challenging to do than on more personal days like birthdays and anniversaries.
So let's touch on other ways you can manage on those special days when your pilot can't be there to celebrate with you.
1. Host an 'Orphan's' Christmas/Thanksgiving
It may feel like you're alone in this situation but I can guarantee there are a number of other people in your community who are also facing the prospect of being alone for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Why not take the initiative and pull together a celebration that includes others who find Christmas a lonely time. This may be elderly neighbours, travellers, people who've had a falling out with family, other pilot's wives or partners of emergency service workers, nurses etc.
An orphan's Christmas doesn't have to mean that you're creating a whole heap more work for yourself. People are usually happy to contribute so divvy up the tasks. Ask everyone to bring a plate and maybe even some decorations. Plan a secret Santa or even a "Bad Santa" draw and make gifts generic so you don't have the stress of trying to choose for someone you may not know well.
If you live in the Southern Hemisphere the weather would suit heading to the beach or a park for a picnic so you don't even have to worry about cleaning up your home. Northerners may need to find somewhere indoors, maybe a community hall or restaurant may be a better choice for your event.
2. Attend an Orphan's Christmas
If you're not quite up for hosting an event, maybe someone else would be happy to have you at their event. Lots of people love to include and help others. Ask around your friends what their plans are, mention that you're trying to decide what to do still as your pilot will be working. Chances are at least one of them (if not more than one) would love to have you.
3. Volunteer to Help Others
The holiday season can be a difficult time for many, especially thos who have fallen on hard times. Organisations are often on the search for volunteers to help out at Christmas lunches. Check with your local church, soup kitchen, aged care facilities, hospitals or homeless support centres what roles they have that you may be able to fill. This is also often a great opportunity to take children along and see how they can serve others and find gratitude for the blessings in their lives.
One catch with this is that you often need to register well in advance (even before the rosters are out) so maybe have a chat with the various organisations and see what works best for you and your family.
4. Plan a totally chill family day in
If you have kids and really can't face the thought of planning something or going to much effort, especially if you plan to celebrate with your pilot on a different date, then plan to have a relaxing day.
Choose some favourite family movies and games, bake your favourite treats and spend the day hanging out with your children. After all, these holidays are all about celebrating family. It doesn't have to be on a massive scale so look at it as an opportunity for you to have some one on one time just focusing on your children and yourself doing your favourite things.
You can do the same thing even if you don't have kids. Buy your favourite treats and line up some movies, TV series or books and truly spend the day treating you. Maybe even arrange for your pilot to hide a little gift somewhere for you and do the same for him. Tuck a gift with a beautiful card or letter in his luggage when he's not looking, just make sure it's not going to get him in trouble with security at the airport!!)
5. Use your flight benefits to join your pilot
If you are fortunate enought to have access to free or cheap air travel, list yourself for a flight that will hopefully end you up in the same city as your pilot. Book a nice restaurant or shop for some of your favourite foods and have a celebration in the hotel room.
Obviously with this option it probably pays to have a back up plan in case you don't end up getting on the flight or even worse, your pilot ends up somewhere else altogether!
6. Travel somewhere else
Sometimes it pays to just accept that the chances of your pilot being home for Christmas are pretty slim and factor that in in advance. Do you have family or close friends who live in a different state or country? Why not make plans to spend a few days with them?
The only catch with this one is if your pilot actually does get Christmas off (which of course Murphy's Law guarantees they will) it pays to have a plan in place so they're not stuck alone at home. Maybe one of your friends is having a Christmas celebration and would be happy to include your pilot, even if it's at the last minute. Or if they get enough days off, maybe then can even travel to join you in your celebration. You never know, stranger things have happened!!
7. Extend the celebrations
I touched on celebrating on a different day but that doesn't exclude celebrating on the actual day itself. Maybe only open presents from other family members or have Santa still arrive on Christmas and save the gifts to each other for your special Christmas. Same with food, have a lovely Christmas or Thanksgiving on the calendar date and then have another one when your pilot is home. This has the added advantage that you can try a few different themes or dishes if you're really keen!
Remember it's just as tough on your pilot
They don't want to be away from family and friends, stuck alone in a hotel room while everyone else celebrates so try to go easy on them when you're expressing your disappointment, I'm sure they feel it too. Make sure you've connected with some of the Pilots' Wives and Partners Facebook groups. There's usually a few lovely families who send out a shoutout to any pilots away from home to invite them to join their family for special days.
I think the real answer is, there is no real answer. We are all different and what really fills one person's cup won't have the same result for someone else. Make the day about you and your family and what feels right for you. This may not even be the same solution from year to year.