Experiencing Christmas alongside 27 children is loud and busy, but also a fun and magical business. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were very special for every person under the Love & Hope roof this holiday. The preparation for Christmas began months ago, but in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we spent a lot of time decorating, wrapping and celebrating.
In El Salvador, Christmas Eve is when people do most of their celebrating. Our day started around 9:00am with food preparation. We had a turkey, a chicken, homemade rolls and several side dishes to prepare for our dinner later on. Because midnight fireworks are a tradition in El Salvador, the children all took a nap after lunch so they would be able to stay awake. Then at 3:00pm, the real fun began, and we had quite a full schedule:
After eating a snack, everyone went up to the terrace for some games.
The go-to game for us at Love & Hope Children’s Home is called “The Dancing Game.” When the music stops, every player has to find a new partner, and the last two people to find a new partner are out. It can get pretty intense.
When we finished games, it was TV time for an hour. FOCUS El Salvador was kind to give us cable for Christmas, which was installed on Christmas Eve! The kids are accustomed to watching a lot of movies in English, so it was a treat to flip through the crystal clear channels, all in Spanish.
Around 6:00pm, the children all gathered to prepare for something that has become a Christmas morning tradition at Love & Hope. Before opening their own presents on Christmas, we head out into our community to pass out gifts to other children. The kids all searched through their own toys and belongings to find things that were in good condition but going unused. They supplemented their gift boxes and bags with other odds and ends from our bodega. When all was said and done, every child had selflessly put together a nice gift of toys, knick-knacks and candy. Then the kids put their presents in the garage for safe-keeping until the next morning.
Everyone recongregated in the kitchen at 7:00pm and separated by age to make candy houses. There were some very creative elements to the casitas they made: pools, penguins, chimneys and paths. Later the houses were set out on a table together and everyone voted for their favorite.
Meanwhile, the cooks finished preparing dinner.
At 8:00pm it was time for dinner! Some of the kids got dressed up and fancy. Before eating, Rachel and Jocelyn read the Christmas story for everyone. We prayed, then formed a line for the beautiful spread of food. It was delicious; the children preferred the turkey and corn, coming for seconds and even thirds.
After dinner, Rachel invited everyone onto the terrace for a surprise. When everyone was settled and sitting down, Santa and his elf walked down the steps from the roof! The little boys were especially excited. At one point, Antonio just couldn’t hold his excitement back anymore and said, “Yes, Santa exists!” Inside Santa’s bag was a new pair of pajamas for every child.
At this point it was getting pretty late. After doing chores and putting on their new pajamas, everyone brought their mattresses and blankets into the kitchen and spread out for a movie and sleepover. Some fell asleep right away, but others stayed up long enough to head up to the roof at midnight for sparklers. From our high perch on the roof, we could also see the fireworks below for miles!
On Christmas morning, the kids woke up and walked right onto the bus, pajamas and all, to hand out the gifts they had prepared the night before. We also brought along a few boxes of rice to give away. Everytime the bus happened upon a child, we stopped to present them with a gift. The enthusiasm of our children was wonderful. Everyone wanted to be the first to step off the bus and give their present away.
When we got back home, everyone filed off the bus and headed up the stairs onto the terrace. The Love & Hope kids were so excited to see the bottom of our Christmas tree filled with presents. The stockings offered more surprises, full of candy from sponsors! Love & Hope Children’s Home was so very blessed this year by many donors who provided our children with school shoes, clothing, toys and even some extra spending money for Christmas.
We finished off Christmas morning with a late breakfast of pancakes and bacon, then relaxed for the rest of the day, playing with new toys, trying on new clothes and eating candy. In the evening, we sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and enjoyed some cake.
Thank you to everyone who made this Christmas special for the children at Love & Hope Children’s Home. We enjoyed every minute. Feliz Navidad!