Every Christmas Eve, the Fullarton family eats a meat pie and goes to a Christmas church service before coming home to open one gift.
On Christmas morning, the family of five has a big brunch, opens presents and plays some newly-unwrapped board games together.
But some family members haven’t always been able to enjoy those family traditions.
Husband and father Trent Fullarton spent 20 years as a submariner with the Royal Canadian Navy, which meant many missed Christmases due to being away for military services.
“With people missing, you clearly can tell,” said his wife Nancy. “You miss not just them being there and being able to share those experiences with them, but they’re also not there for the games and the fun.”
When he retired five years ago as a petty officer, Trent joined HMCS Queen Charlotte Naval Reserve and has since been able to spend Christmas at home.
“Him being retired is a good thing,” said Nancy. “It’s the first time in our whole existence with all of our kids that he’s actually in one place where we are.”
Nancy and her eight-year-old daughter Sophie were two of many who participated in the P.E.I. Military Family Resource Centre’s Christmas party at the Murchison Centre Sunday.
Although her husband is home for Christmas this year, Nancy said she has previously relied on military resources centres and their programs and knows the support they can provide to military families.
Nancy said even if Trent would come home for Christmas in previous years, he would sometimes arrive just days before the 25th.
Christmas isn’t just about the one day either, said Nancy while noting the month leading up to Dec. 25 is also filled with holiday preparation and fun.
“You’re usually a single parent getting ready for the big holidays,” said Nancy. “They miss the Christmas concerts, they miss the family parties, they miss the gift exchanges, they just arrive home.”
She said having a loved one deployed also makes planning Christmas more difficult.
“Historically, we would never know (if he would come home),” she said. “You can’t plan your holidays in advance being in a military family.”
The couple’s eldest child Daniel followed in his father’s footsteps and is an army sergeant with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Regina, where he has a two-year posting.
Daniel has also been away for Christmas when he was deployed in Afghanistan, although he still called his mother on Christmas.
Nancy said it’s nice to be on the phone with her son or husband while they’re gone but the second they hang up, they’re alone again.
“Their close-knit family is gone so they’re left in the loneliest time of the year with no family,” she said.
Retirement has meant the family could also move back home to P.E.I., where Nancy is from, after years of moving from base to base.
It also means the couple’s youngest daughter, eight-year-old Sophie, will get more time with her father.
“Out of all the three children she’s the only one that’s going to experience having a full-time dad,” said Nancy, adding the best part of having her husband home was being together as a family.
“It’s living in the moment and enjoying everything you can.”