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.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 670612012-12-24 Christmas Eve 670632012-12-24 Christmas Eve 670702012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67076 Lucy was so excited about helping to read what the cans were and put them where they should be.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67088 She was a huge help for the first hour or so…2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67079 …and ran back and forth like nobody’s business as we all kept handing her more and more cans.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67085 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.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 670912012-12-24 Christmas Eve 670922012-12-24 Christmas Eve 670962012-12-24 Christmas Eve 670972012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671072012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671192012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671212012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671182012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67126 We all left that place with such big smiles.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67131 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.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671342012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67135 …and brought it to the guys working at the Fire Station.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67136 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.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67137 Then we headed to Nana and Papa’s for our dinner and nativity. Lucy was pleased as punch that she got to be Mary.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671462012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67148 Grace was not so pleased that she was asked to play her flute, but she did a great job.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67153 Max was happy to serve as the donkey 🙂2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67155 It was a very solemn nativity:2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671592012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67161(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:2012-12-24 iPhone 67231 (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.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67224 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?2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671652012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671672012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671702012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671722012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67175 Claire picked out the perfect gift for her big bro.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67177 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.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671792012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67184 …and a stocking she could color.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67186Don’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.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67191 This was Grace’s reaction when Max gave her some shoes she really wanted:2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67194Yeah, I couldn’t even catch it she was getting up to hug him so darn fast.2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671972012-12-24 Christmas Eve 671992012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67202 Christmas PJs:2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 672072012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67209 “T’was the Night Before Christmas” tradition:2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67214 Claire took careful notes on her new notepad from Elle…2012-12-24 Christmas Eve 672192012-12-24 Christmas Eve 67220 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.)

Similar Posts


  1. I absolutely love these wonderful service ideas…and they aren't limited to Christmas. I just bet that a Wal-Mart clerk would appreciate a gift card themselves any time of year! Great post. Love your blog.

  2. As a flight attendant, I have worked my share of holidays. It is such a boost to just hear those two words, "Thank You"…but a little great or gift makes it MUCH more bearable to be away from my family just so I can help other families be together. Thank you for being such a great example of the true spirit of Christmas and most definitely, thanking those of us who HAVE to work that day 🙂

  3. so glad your christmas eve rocked 🙂 mine totally sucked, so i guess i need to reexamine what to do next year.
    thank you SO much for being willing to share your parenting ideas and not being annoyed when people like me totally want to copy you- i really glean so much from your real-life examples and fill me with hope for my own little family.
    you have done so much good in my life and continue to do so, so thanks for blogging!
    maybe i can be awesome like you (in my own way, of course)- because imitation is the highest form of flattery right?
    happy new year to you and yours!

  4. Shawni, Love reading about your family and your Christmas traditions, we have some good ones too, but I really liked your service idea for Christmas Eve, will have to steal that one for next year. Thanks so much for sharing your family with us, you inspire me to be a better mom. Can't wait to see what word you are going to use for 2013!!! Happy New Year.

  5. fabulous! I love all those ideas. I was just thinking to myself this year before Christmas that when I don't have babies I'd like to ditch our Christmas lunch and take my whole family to go and cook and serve lunch to other people. thanks for the photos and inspiration


  6. Thank you for posting about your day of service…I know what you mean about not wanting to "put it out there" but I am glad you did, because it is nice to have the inspiration.
    We try to do a "service" piece for our kids' at their classroom parties and so I'm always looking for ideas. (this year we made "happy new year" cards for meals to go with a meals-on-wheels type program around here)
    I appreciate your sharing your ideas! Happy new year!

  7. Thank you for sharing! I love seeing your family spending time together. It makes me want to have more kids:). I can't wait until mine are older and we can do things like this more easily.

  8. Oh my goodness. I just had the best idea as a spinoff to your wonderful service ideas!! I'm so excited. I think we will collect our change as a family all year long. There is SO much change around here!! Then on Christmas Eve take our change and buy as many gifts cards as we can. And hand them out on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day to tons of people that we are thankful for working on that tough day to be away from family. Love love this!! I'm already so excited to hand them out haha!! Thanks for this post, it will shift us towards service on Christmas too.

  9. Those are GREAT service ideas! And perfect for all ages. My oldest, who is 6, just learned about the truth of St. Nicholas/SAnta this year just before Christmas and while we did some service projects (baking cookies for the guys Daddy manages, putting homemade gift baskets for friends together), I have been trying to think of more for next year 🙂 Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  10. Happy to be the family that got your wheels turning! I'm so inspired and I think these service opportunities or recognition opportunities could be done all year long! What a great birthday tradition perhaps? To serve or say thanks in honor of someone's birthday? Hmmmm…. We love you guys- thank you for some great ideas!

  11. This makes me so excited to have a family someday soon and to start traditions with my future kids. This is just about the most perfect Christmas Eve I have ever seen.

  12. I found myself here after reading this year's Christmas post. I've been a follower of your blog for several years and I really enjoy it, and usually pretty much agree with the way you raise your kids. I'm actually amazed by your stamina and wish I had it!!

    I'm just floored though, that you got Elle an iPhone. Not that she's not mature enough, or that the straight A's aren't great… but wow. I think she's a bit young, plus a $500 phone (plus the data package) is a bit much for a young teen. Just my opinion..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *