February 3, 2023

Brightening the Holiday for Military Families

Military Families
A life-sized Grinch was happy to pose for pictures at the Winter Wonderland Extravaganza. (DoD photo by Katie Lange)

As cheerful as the holidays seem, they can often be a hard time for a lot of military families, especially children who are navigating the changes that come with a recent move, the deployment of a parent, or the loss of a parent.

Thankfully, the military community is always ready to rally around these folks to brighten their spirits. Earlier this month, about 200 military children and their families attended the ninth annual Winter Wonderland Extravaganza held at the Ritz Carlton in Arlington, VA.

“It’s one thing for the families to recognize the service and sacrifices that they make. It’s another thing for the community to do so,” said Emma Dockery, the co-founder of Yellow Ribbons United, which hosts the event. “I think this is a night that we cherish because it allows the community to truly be able to give back in a tangible way.”

The families were treated to a magic show as they enjoyed several childhood classics for dinner — mac and cheese, pizza, and chicken fingers included. Then they were unleashed throughout the ballroom, where they could meet some of their favorite Disney characters, share Christmas wishes with Santa, and collect some great gifts from various vendors. The kids were also able to participate in a cookie-making station and a Build-A-Bear station, as well as play games in a special gaming area.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” said Army Master Sgt. Jimmy Young, whose been in the service for 22 years. “I’m getting ready to retire, and my wife is like, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do next year when we don’t have this event.’ They look forward to this every chance they get.”

The kids were also able to grab a gift from the well-stocked Toys for Tots room, which included some of today’s hottest toys. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Marine Corps charity.

And aside from all the fun and games, what Winter Wonderland Extravaganza would be complete without hot chocolate and cupcakes?

“We look forward to it every year just because this gives us the opportunity to make us feel special a little bit,” said Army Master Sgt. Edith Brooks, whose family attended the event for the second time.

“We really haven’t had events like this in the past. This is unique,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jared Engel, who brought his wife and 3-year-old son, Graham, for the first time. “It’s really been a lot of fun — lot of Christmas for this little guy.”

This article was written by Katie Lange for DOD News.

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