December begins with a 2-day evangelistic campaign at the Pisulí Church of Christ. On Saturday, Rusty takes the three boys to their baseball practice and games in the morning, then to the church to help for the afternoon. I stay home and get out the Christmas decorations. We put up the tree that evening. On Sunday, we all go to Pisulí for the morning service, followed by a big lunch and some afternoon activities.
It takes me several days to get my house all decorated for Christmas. We start doing our Jesse Tree -- reading a devotional each night leading up to Christmas and then hanging up the accompanying ornament. This has become such a meaningful holiday tradition for our family. We use this wonderful book by Ann Voskamp. We also start watching our favorite Christmas movies when we have a free evening.
The first half of December tends to be fairly busy. I am still homeschooling and teaching my English classes, but I am also planning and getting ready for various Christmas events at the camp. We usually have a Parent Night for the after-school program just before we break for Christmas, so there are rehearsals to help with and decorating to do for that. In addition, we will have a Christmas party for the kids in the program, and a staff Christmas lunch. It is tradition in Ecuador for employers to gift their employees with a box of "víveres," or non-perishable food items for Christmas, so Rusty and I take a morning to price the various options at the different grocery stores in town and then purchase the boxes for our staff.
Alex has a Teen Night to attend. This one is a sleepover because the following day, the teens put on their Christmas fair fundraiser event. They are raising funds to off-set the costs of their annual retreat, which will take place in the spring. The teens spend Friday evening setting up for the fair, which takes place on Saturday. It is a fun day with games, crafts, and food for purchase. Our whole family attends and has a great time. We are very thankful for this community of fellow homeschooling missionaries.
The after-school program runs through mid-December, and then we have a 3-week break for the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The final day of the program is busy. We have the staff Christmas lunch before the program and present the Christmas boxes to our staff. Immediately following the program, we have the Parent Night. Each class has prepared a Christmas song to sing for their parents, and they do a great job. Afterwards, we serve hot cocoa and homemade empanadas to everyone. We had a great turnout this year, so there are nearly 200 people present!
The boys have their final baseball games and end-of-season parties on the same day as the Christmas party for the after-school program, so once again, we "divide and conquer." Rusty takes the boys to Quito for baseball, and I stay at the camp to help with the party. We have a group of students from the Bible college come out for the day. They have planned games and outdoor activities for the kids. We also do "photos with Santa" and have those printed so the kids can make a photo craft. Lunch is served, followed by a special program -- the students perform a drama for the kids and then the kids sing a couple of their songs (the same ones they performed for the parent night) as a way to say "thank you." Finally, Santa gives out a bag of candy and treats to each child! We are thankful for all those who make these special Christmas parties possible -- through financial gifts or through giving up a free Saturday to help out!
Alex has a friend from baseball over to spend the night following the final game. The next day, his family drives out to pick him up. We have lunch together and spend Sunday afternoon visiting and playing disc golf. The Quito Youth Baseball League has been another great place for us to make friends outside of our own little missions circle!
Now, most of the camp Christmas activities are over, but we have become aware of a member of the Pisulí church, Sandra, who is in dire need of help with her house. The house is not finished, but Sandra and her children have been living in it for awhile. Rusty organizes some of the camp employees to travel to Quito several days in a row to do a service project to make the house more livable. He takes Alex with him one day to help out. They are joined in their efforts by some of the members of the Pisulí church as well as by Sandra and her family.
The last day of school before the Christmas break is December 21st. Elizabeth has her school Christmas program followed by her class party. After lunch, we head in to Quito. Alex attends the homeschool teen Christmas party. Rusty and Josh hang out at the Marcums' house with the younger kids while Julie and I go out to dinner and do some last-minute shopping.
Our Christmas break has officially begun. We spend the next few days doing final Christmas prep -- wrapping presents, doing our annual ornament craft (this year, we do puzzle piece ornaments), and finishing up the Christmas baking. I try to do 12 different cookies, plus peanut brittle and peppermint bark every year. Once I am all finished, I start putting out trays of Christmas cookies with each meal.
On Christmas Eve, we have finger foods and wassail for dinner. After the kids go to bed, Rusty and I stay up late wrapping presents and watching movies. I like to watch "While You Were Sleeping" as I wrap gifts on Christmas Eve. It has become a fun personal tradition.
Christmas Day is relaxed and fun. We start the day with pumpkin cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Then, we open presents. We have a yummy late lunch of roast lamb, spiced peaches, and all the trimmings and then watch "A Christmas Story" together. The kids spend the following day playing with their new toys while I do a little clean up and putting away around the house.
On December 27th, the Marcum family arrives at the camp for our annual family Christmas gathering. We have a yummy late Christmas lunch, then play disc golf and board games for the rest of the afternoon. That evening, we exchange gifts (each kid buys one gift for one of their cousins -- keeps things simple) and have a sleepover. The Marcums leave after breakfast the next morning.
All the hustle and bustle of Christmas is finally over, but we have the next 2 weeks to enjoy some family time. All of the camp employees are taking vacation time for a few days and the camp is closed and very quiet. These times don't come around too often, so we try to enjoy them when they do! Over the next few days, we eat lots of Christmas leftovers, play board games, and have a "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" marathon.
On New Year's Eve I spend the day scrapbooking. We make egg-nog, Chex Mix, and homemade pizza for our family New Year's Eve party. The kids watch movies and sleep out in the living room under the Christmas tree. They want to try to stay up until midnight to ring in the new year, but nobody makes it except Rusty and me! At midnight, the fireworks start going off all around us.
December moments (clockwise from top left):
- Alex and Eliana ran the game called The Three Gifts at the Christmas fundraiser fair.
- Christmas train sighting!
- After school program Christmas party -- the kids made a photo craft using their photo with Santa.
- Group picture after completing Sandra's home improvement service project
- Merry Christmas from the staff of Camp Bellevue!
- Christmas cookie decorating
- Christmas morning family pic in front of the tree with our silly hats!