We had a slow and quiet day all day Christmas Eve, the perfect way to build up to one of my very favorite nights of the year. For the past several years, we've developed a melody to our Christmas Eve night that I've grown to anticipate more than any other - we dress the kids in their new Christmas outfits, Mom and Dad come and join us for the 5:00 candlelight service at Orchard, we head back to our house for lasagna and my famous baked hot chocolate in Christmas ramekins, the kids open their Christmas Eve gifts of new jammies and a book for our growing collection, we give Papa and Grandma hugs goodbye, and then participate in all the pre-Santa rituals like cookies and reindeer food before tucking them in their beds and finishing It's A Wonderful Life with a glass of wine or a cup of tea. And as always, it's the smallest of details in the midst of this routine that I savor the most. Details like Beau, Dad, and the kids always staying behind while Mom and I go to church an hour early because we know that's the only way you can get a row of seats at Orchard's Christmas Eve service, and how I always love that quiet time to sip a peppermint cocoa and talk to my mom. Details like the way the kids' faces light up with the warmest glow while we sing Silent Night, the lump in my throat and the tears that fill my eyes every year, and how our Christmas tree looks extra pretty from the window as we pull into the driveway after church, hearts full and spirits high. Details like that first bite of baked hot chocolate, with its warm, gooey center, and how the anticipation always elevates and the kids always get a little goofy right after the pajamas are opened and we start to talk about bedtime. There's a magic about the night before Christmas that is quite something, especially when you get to watch it through the eyes of your children.
There was the familiarity of the same this year, with new details and snapshots that seem to take the cake more than any year in my memory (do I say that every year? ;). The candlelight service this year was incredible. The theme was centered on the song, Do You See What I See, and everything was tied together in a creative and beautiful way. And the choir at the end gave us quite a picture of what worshiping in Heaven must be like. Seriously, between watching the kids and listening to the last arrangement of music, I dang near lost it! I'm including the link for my own good here, but if you have a few minutes (or an hour), I highly recommend watching this from minute 54 and on. Kate and that choir will take you to church!
Our little church goers were on their best behavior this year, both understanding our instruction that they would not be able to hold their own candle at the end of the service if they were not well behaved. It was such a joy to watch them - how Mila sat in her own chair with her legs pulled up to her chest, raising her hand when Jeff asked who was excited about Santa, and closing her eyes really tight when it was time to say a prayer. Cruz sat in between his Papa and Grandma and was good as gold as he half listened, half colored in his activity book. Every year it breaks my heart a little to see them age just a little more, but gosh, every season is so special in its own way.
Some of my other favorite details of the night included Otis Redding's Christmas and more cranberry moscow mules, Cruz and Papa playing War at the island while the lasagna finished baking, opening my surprise tea kettle from Mom, and watching Mila run the show with Papa in a make-believe tea party that ended with snow angels on the wood floor.
And lastly, Beau's Santa tracker. He found one on his phone and before we knew it, he was taking both kids on a wild adventure as he tracked Santa in real time and sent the kids on a goose chase to complete all our said tasks before Santa hit the Florida Keys. Their excitement, especially Cruz's, was palpable. We put on our boots and sprinkled reindeer food on the driveway, picked out three cookies for Santa (ones with extra sprinkles, per Cruz's request), and read Mr. Willowby's Christmas before tucking their little bodies in their beds and kissing their foreheads. They were never so compliant about bedtime!
The house was quiet and I turned on NBC just in time for the last twenty minutes of It's A Wonderful Life. I smiled with Jimmy's big smile, stuffed stockings just so, and enjoyed my sugar cookie with extra sprinkles. A big day awaited us in the morning.