Christmas officially began once we met up with my sister Charity (beloved Aunt ChiChi) who arrived on the 23rd from San Francisco to spend Christmas with us. We met up with her at Temple Square to see the lights and delighted in beauty and wonder of all the lights and crowds and music of the place. The cold air and bundled families and sparkling lights make for such a festive evening - especially with Charity's added spark.
Then Christmas Eve morning, we had our traditional breakfast (this yummy quick quiche - will post the recipe later because man, it's good - and pretty darn easy too).
After devouring the house, we guessed and then revealed who everyone's secret elves were. We drew names of people who we'd be "Secret Elves" for the week before. Everyone had so much fun all week doing nice little services for each other and leaving notes and treats for each other. Everyone did a great job but Silas was my secret elf and I think we all agreed he was the best. He left a sweet note or treat under my pillow every night. He left a dot-to-dot for me to do one day (it made a cool pattern). Another day he made me a "popskl making kit" that included instructions wrapped around a popsicle stick. The instructions said: 1. put apl jus in a cup. 2. put this stk in the cup. 3. put the cup in the freazer for a few owers. 4. eet yr popskl! He was SO cute about the whole thing, asking me each day in a calculatingly casual way whether I'd got anything from my secret elf. When I'd excitedly tell him about the awesome stuff I got, he'd try to conceal his obviously huge happiness about how much I appreciated what he'd done. You can see some of the joy of giving on Silas's face in this photo right after he revealed he was my elf.
Wrapping and Puzzle Time
We spent a lot of Christmas Eve wrapping presents (it was my big goal that I actually achieved this year to get all the shopping done the day before and be able to relax a fair amount on Christmas Eve). Then when the last of the presents were wrapped and under the tree, we worked on a puzzle together and it was a really fun family project. I think we'll make this a regular Christmas Eve tradition.
We went over to our neighbor's house for an early dinner featuring their traditional pierogi (Polish dumplings - 100's of them, all handmade - delicious!). We enjoyed meeting some of their friends and enjoyed great food and great conversation. I didn't think to take photos. Oh well.
Nazareth Summer and Nativity
Then we came home and had our traditional Nazareth Supper - a tradition my parents started long ago. We dress up, turn off all the lights and use only candles, and pretend to be Mary's family enjoying a farewell dinner as we send her and Joseph off on the journey to Bethlehem while we eat pita, goat cheese, pomegranates and other foods they'd have had in Jesus' day. We use simple costumes I made years ago from fabric I found on the dollar table at Walmart mixed with some real head bands and robes my parents picked up on travels in the Middle East. We also use special plates I bought in Jerusalem years ago. So fun to have Charity there to round out the conversation over supper as well as help with the traditional Nativity play we put on at the close of the supper.
For the supper, Charity was Mary's cousin Elizabeth, Isaac was her husband Zachariah and the baby is baby John (who's pretty darn small for his age - he's have been about 6 months older than Jesus I think). Ashton choose to be a cousin who was also a donkey-dealer and hooked Mary and Joseph up with a great donkey for the journey. Silas was Mary's brother. Oliver was Joseph and Liza was Mary (she gets to be Mary every year and is quite pleased about that - she's got the role down pat). Jared and I were Mary's parents - Anna and Joquime (according to some sources).
Then Ashton became the donkey and the rest of us transformed into innkeepers, shepherds, kings and angels.
|Mary and Joseph head to Bethlehem with their trusty donkey|
|Joseph talks to an innkeeper|
|The baby was born in the stable|
|The angel pointed out the star to the shepherds and sang to them|
|And the wise men, angel and shepherds worshiped the newborn babe|
As we knelt around the baby in the soft glow of the Christmas tree, we sang Away in a Manger, Silent Night, In a Little Stable, and What Child is This. After some silliness here and there during dinner and some frustration about posing for photos and some disagreement about who should do what, it was great to feel the Spirit really rush in as we knelt there together at the end and sang.
Christmas Eve Present
Then we finished off the evening by opening one present which proved to be - as always - new pj's.
|This is how we left the tree when we went to bed - with visions of sugar plumbs dancing in our heads.|
We opened up our stockings (some fun little puzzles and games plus all the regular candy - jelly orange slices that grow on trees at the North Pole, candy canes, oranges, and each kid got a favorite exotic fruit - mangos, kiwi, and Isaac got his favorite - an avacado)
|Ashton got a pretty awesome Syma helicopter that Jared's always begging to fly.|
Silas got the seemingly awesome race car set pictured above from Santa. But apparently some less-than-stellar elves built this thing. It totally didn't work. Silas was pretty sad and Jared and I felt awful since Silas was also the one who had his Christmas gift from last year fall off Santa's sleigh and arrive a few days late. Ooops! But luckily Silas got happily sucked into helping with Oliver's roller coaster. And when he got this really super cool rocket ship from one of his cousins (pictured below), the day was thoroughly saved.
As usual, one of my favorite parts of the day was watching the kids open the presents they'd carefully saved up and bought for each other. This year the older kids went beyond dollar store gifts since they've been earning more money mowing lawns and babysitting. Ashton and Isaac were SO excited about the gifts they had for the twins and Eliza. And the twins and Eliza were perfectly delighted with what their big brothers bought for them.
All the kids chipped in on a megapack of cotton swab/q-tips for their dad. He was pretty excited.
We ate our traditional eggs benedict for brunch. Yum!
We rushed off to church after brunch. I have to admit I wasn't feeling much like changing out of our pj's and breaking up the day with church after we'd really spent a lot of quality time already focusing on the spiritual aspects of Christmas. But some of my favorite moments of Christmas day happened as we sat on uncomfortable folding chairs at the back of a church gym. As we listened to the choir sing and heard great talks about how angels are all around us and how the Christmas story teaches us about the beauty and importance of parenthood alongside other things, the twins were both on my lap, patting my cheeks and snuggling up to me, Eliza was snuggled up on one side, Isaac was reaching across Eliza to hold my hand and squeeze "I love you" with three hand squeezes, and Ashton was smiling at me whenever I caught his eye. It was so nice to sit there nestled together with no presents to distract and really think about the powerful messages of Christmas that the speakers were presenting. I pulled up this photo on my phone and passed it along the row so everyone could really examine it during the talk about how angels are always around us. I love how this painting makes me think and feel when I look at it carefully:
|"Nativity" by Brian Kershisnik|
After church, we came home for more present-opening and fun (and too much candy).
|Charity and I randomly got the same slippers and they are AWESOME! |
My parents picked out Charity's for her and Jared surprised me with mine.
|My parents' big gift to us was a Kindle Fire. Of course I haven't exactly been able to get my hands on it yet (other than for this photo) but it sure seems great and everyone in the family is enjoying it.|
We closed the day with a fancy turkey dinner including traditional English Christmas Crackers filled with jokes, prizes and a paper crown so we could all be kings and queens for dinner. Since Charity went on her mission to England and I grew up in England, we needed some good British stuff thrown in.
What a Christmas we had! Full of traditions and joy and giving and love and playing and worshiping the One who Christmas is really about in word and in deed.