Every Christmas Eve, my husband's family and I share in a Holiday tradition that warms our hearts and really makes the Christmas season feel complete for us. If you are looking for your own family tradition, this is a great way to spend the evening before Santa arrives.
My husband's father has a very close resemblance to Santa himself, actually, he has been told he also looks like Kenny Rogers, but when he grows out his beard, starting Thanksgiving weekend, he really can pass as Old Saint Nick. I can't wait for children someday so that we can have Santa appear at our house every year...
Anyway, my father-in-law bought a Santa costume (you can rent them too), and on Christmas Eve he dresses up, while we adorn green and red with Santa hats to get into the spirit as well. We hop in the car and drive down to the Children's Hospital to pass out gifts to the children in the cancer ward. Sadly, there are many children who spend the holidays couped up in a hospital bed recovering from serious illnesses. We have a very dear friend who's son spent Christmas in this particular facility many years ago and we created this tradition when Todd made a full recovery. The staff was so wonderful during his stay in the cancer ward and we wanted to find a way to, not only give back to them, but also spread some cheer in their department during the Christmas season.
About a week before Christmas, we call the nurses station to find out which children will be there, and what their ages are. We promptly go to Target to fill up the shopping cart with Toys for each child. We have even extended the gift giving to siblings since often their Christmas Eve is also spent in the hospital with Mom and Dad and their sick brother or sister. Gift giving is never extravagant but it is always a joy to watch the little smiles appear on children who have not been feeling much like smiling for weeks. Unfortunately, some of the children are so young that this visit from Santa is the first time they have met the "magic maker". Visits with these children are a special treat.
If you decide to begin a tradition such as this, it is very important that you work directly with a representative from the hospital. There are very strict rules about who may and may not have access to a children's ward. But, like us, once you have made this a tradition, and proven your heart's intent, the Nurses find this a very welcomed respite from the duties of tending to sick children. Often, some children are so sick that only Santa is allowed in the room for a brief time to capture a picture with the adorable tot. We always bring along a polaroid and leave the picture with the parents. Sometimes, if a child is sleeping, Santa slips in, takes a picture with the child and the surprise is left for him or her to awake to. Of course we never forget the nurses. A tin of cookies and candy is always a welcomed treat and "pick-me-up" for those long hours...
While this tradition is very heart warming, it can be tough. It definitely tugs at the old heart, so bring tissues for Santa and his elves. There are some children who sadly, are too sick for any visitors. With those children, Santa peeks his jolly head through the window and we all sing a Christmas carol... and say a prayer... for our little friend and his family.
About three years ago, a teddy bear manufacturer heard about our family tradition and has since been helping us by sending us with loads of stuffed toys to pass out. There is something to be said for a snugly friend to keep in bed when you are not feeling well. Thankfully, we always end up with more stuffed toys than there are children in the ward. So, when we are done in the cancer ward, we head over to the emergency room and Santa passes out friends to those children who find themselves unexpectedly at the emergency room on Christmas Eve. You would be surprised at how many children spend the night before Christmas in the emergency room for one reason or another.
If you and your family are looking for a way to fill your hearts this Christmas, consider adopting our family tradition. It really does bring the meaning of Christmas home. If you run into obstacles at your local hospital, try adopting the same tradition but instead bring Santa and toys to a local homeless shelter. Everyone loves to see Santa!
Happy Holidays everyone!!!