We have some friends who just moved to the desert from the heart of New York City.
They came to visit last month and we sat around and picked their brains about life in the big city with their three kids. There is so much of me that craves the big-city life. There is so much of it that Dave does NOT crave, so I don’t know that we will ever make that our home. But man alive, it’s sure fun to hear about it.
One thing this family told us about was their favorite NYC Christmas tradition. They would wake up early in the morning on Christmas and check out the unwrapped gifts Santa had left for them. Then they would wait to open the rest of the gifts until they put on their Santa hats, headed out to grab a taxi, and zipped through the usually-jam-packed-but-deserted-because-of-Christmas NYC streets. Each year their destination was early-morning ice skate at Rockefeller Center, then a favorite street restaurant for Christmas breakfast. Then they would head home to open the rest of their gifts.
As sentimental as I am, I’m all for jumping out of the regular Christmas routines once in a while. As they told us their traditions a little seed planted in me that we should do the same thing, but instead of skating at Rockefeller Center (since that would be a little bit of a jaunt for us:), we could go do some service on Christmas morning. Sure, there are all kinds of opportunities to serve around Christmas time. There are always the sub-for-santas and this year we did our own “secret santas” that worked out so well. But this was different in my mind. This was family togetherness mixed in with giving and I was excited.
So I set out to seek out some sort of whiz-bang service opportunity. One friend had the great idea of gathering a couple families together and going to feed the hundreds of people at a nearby crisis center, which would have been awesome (and which we will hopefully still do at some point), but I just plain didn’t have enough energy to pull it together at that point.
Then another friend happened to mention in passing some service ideas she and her family did last year. I knew right at that moment that was what I was looking for. Dave and I tried to figure it out for Christmas morning, but it happened to work better for Christmas Eve. So our Christmas Eve turned into a day of service.
It wasn’t anything grand and I almost hesitate to write about it because in my mind, true service is done privately, causing a secret smile in your heart. But I was so incredibly grateful for the ideas I thought it would almost be selfish not to share.
The first thing we did in the morning was head to the Food Bank with a couple other families.
We got to sort a whole bunch of canned goods donated from school food drives all around the valley.
Lucy was so excited about helping to read what the cans were and put them where they should be.
She was a huge help for the first hour or so…
…and ran back and forth like nobody’s business as we all kept handing her more and more cans.
She was great until she decided very adamantly that she solely wanted to do the mac and cheese items.
Then her help slowed down a little bit because of the lack of abundant mac and cheese…
Luckily Claire was a pretty good back-up.
We all left that place with such big smiles.
We went to McDonalds for lunch, which is my very favorite place (ha ha). We paid for the people behind us in the drive-thru. It is funny what a little thing the kids get so excited about.
Then we came home and whipped up some home-made bread.
…and brought it to the guys working at the Fire Station.
We thanked them for working even on Christmas Eve to keep our community safe and protected.
They were SO nice and gave us a personalized tour of what they do.
Then we headed to Nana and Papa’s for our dinner and nativity.
Lucy was pleased as punch that she got to be Mary.
Grace was not so pleased that she was asked to play her flute, but she did a great job.
Max was happy to serve as the donkey :)
It was a very solemn nativity:(Gotta love that cute little Jimmy’s face in the front…)
We had to sneak out of there quick cause we had to get to Walmart before it closed. Why Walmart, you may ask?
Well, we decided to split up into teams and each give away some things there. Here’s my team:
(Grace and Claire were with Dave).
We each bought some Walmart gift cards and then gave them back to the person who checked us out and wished them a Merry Christmas.
They were confused and I think a little bit weirded-out by us, but they were pretty happy too. Then we bought some more smaller gift cards and handed them out to some young guys pushing the carts back in in the parking lot. When we got back together in the car we reported back to each other about the people our teams picked out and how it felt to hand those gift cards over.
We also stopped at a gas station (since we almost ran out of gas) and did the same thing for the guy at the cash register there, thanking him for working on Christmas Eve. It was so fun to watch the kids. They were so nervous but maybe I was even more so.
Finally, we came home for the piece-de-resistance: the children’s gift exchange (my favorite part of Christmas).
They each spent their hard-earned money on the person two younger than them this year (they did one younger than them last year, it’s a rotation process we’ve decided). They were giddy to give those gifts to each other and I loved that.
Before we started Grace handed out the sweetest hand-written notes she had taken the time to write to everyone.
Lucy chose a plate from the dollar store for Elle. Luckily I “helped” pick the other part of her gift, but really, who needs a scarf when you have a Frosty the Snowman plate?
Claire picked out the perfect gift for her big bro.
And Grace…Well, Grace had it tough because she was trying to find something as cool for Lu as Claire gave Lucy last year. I didn’t think that you could come close to something Lucy would love as much as that Ariel doll that has since become part of our family, but boy howdy, Grace sure found a good one. It’s a princess play-doh set Lu has spent hours working on so far.
…and a stocking she could color.Don’t let that look of fright on Lu’s face make you believe she wasn’t head-over-heels in love with that thing.
Elle gave Claire some really thoughtful stuff she loved when she was her age.
This was Grace’s reaction when Max gave her some shoes she really wanted:Yeah, I couldn’t even catch it she was getting up to hug him so darn fast.
“T’was the Night Before Christmas” tradition:
Claire took careful notes on her new notepad from Elle…
Then everyone nestled snuggly into their beds to wait to see if they could hear those Santa bells jingling.
One of my favorite moments was listening to their pure excitement as they negotiated who was going to sleep where because it is “tradition.”
Oh man I love that. Mostly because it brought me back to those days when I was their age. SO excited. Thick air surrounding me. That feeling that only Christmas can bring.
Probably my favorite Christmas Eve to date. (Thanks for the service ideas, Gale…lots more we couldn’t get to that I’ll have to share another time.)