Our family has a few fun Christmas Eve traditions too. We also lived far away from family for many years and had to come up with our own traditions.
If we have snow, which unfortunately we do not this year, we make a big pot of hot chocolate (using Stacy's recipe) then hit the sledding hill. We sled until we are all so tired we cannot climb back up the hill. After the sledding we come back home to have a snack dinner (crackers, cheese ball, summer sausage, neighbor goodies, popcorn, and more hot chocolate) and build our gingerbread house. I cheat and buy a kit at Walmart, but we still have a blast putting it together and listening to Christmas Carols.
Our FAVORITE part of Christmas Eve takes place after it gets dark. Throughout the year we have a jar sitting on our counter. All of our change from shopping or finding it in the parking lot, or wherever we find change, goes in this jar for an entire year. At first it seems like we will never fill the jar, but by Thanksgiving time we are searching for a bigger jar because the one we have is almost overflowing. Around Halloween I start paying for everything in cash, never giving any of my precious change to the cashier, just so that I can go home and empty my purse into the coin jar.
During Thanksgiving is when we start to think of a family who may be in need of a little help, or Christmas Spirit. Last year my sweet 9 year old told us that she had really been thinking about who we could give it to, and she knew the perfect family. She told us how there was a girl in her school class that only had 4 shirts and a light jacket. We live in Rexburg aka...Iceburg, Idaho. It is freezing here 6 months out of the year(like 0* in the mornings)!! A light jacket would not keep anyone warm. When we talked with the school teacher and found out that this was true we knew we had found our family. We went out and bought the two kids coats and long sleeves shirts, gloves, hats, and a few extra treats. The kids had so much fun doing this! Then on Christmas Eve we wrote our little card, attached it to the jar of change and headed off to deliver our bag of goodies. The kids were so excited they couldn't stop giggling and chatting the whole way over. Dad went up with the bag of gifts and the jar, handed them over with a wish of Merry Christmas and hurried back out to the car. As we drove home we talked about how we felt and how we thought they felt. Even though it is not much, I do think that every little bit can help, and that they know there are people out there that care for them. I still get teared up when I think of last year, and how my children were really thinking and searching for someone we could help.
When we get home from our delivery we talk about the true meaning of Christmas, and what our Savior did for us. Before we go to bed we find a new jar to set on our counter.