With another holiday season rapidly approaching it’s time to take a look at Fall Holidays.
In an earlier post (titled “Holidays” if you’d like to go back and check it out) we discussed Spring holidays, and how holidays at the Ranch can be difficult, since kids are away from their families. Fall holidays are no exception.
Halloween: For our younger residents, we allow each to pick an appropriate costume and take them trick-or-treating downtown in Hillsville. We visit local businesses to collect candy and other goodies. This event is 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
For our older residents, we usually visit downtown Galax, well after the younger residents are finished, and sometimes even in bed already. They also trick-or-treat downtown and can dress up, appropriately, if they chose to.
Halloween candy, as with all candy, goes in residents boxes in the office, that way no one stays up all night eating what they have collected. While this would be fun that night, it would not be fun, for anyone, the next morning!
Also for Halloween we play a lot of what we like to refer to has “Hallo-wingo”. This is Halloween themed Bingo with pictures of bats and trees and one-eyed monsters and owls, etc. Often, we play for prizes too!
It is also important to mention, though there is no actual holiday, that in October of each year we visit Thornspring Farm Fest. This is a farm festival hosted by Mike and Tina, owners of Thornspring Pastures Farm in Pulaski, VA. This event goes on for several weekends and each year they allow our residents to come in for free and enjoy a day of rides and treats and trampolines and games, etc. Our kids who have been before, even the older residents, always look forward to this and we have a great time. “Is that the place with the big trampoline that’s in the ground???????!!!??!!!”
Thanksgiving: Unlike Halloween, which is not necessarily a family-centered holiday, Thanksgiving can be a little more difficult for our kids. Many children will get to go on home visits during this time and some, even if it is an option, will not get to go.
For Thanksgiving at the Ranch we always have a campus meal. Many of our staff may be gone for the holiday but all of us who are here get together for a big family-style meal. One of our house-dads had a family tradition of going to the movies on Thanksgiving evening so often we try to do that too.
Thanksgiving activities include: bingo (again, themed for the holiday!), Turkey Trivia, Thankfulness Tree and lots of baking with apples.
Christmas: It goes without saying, though I feel that I should say it, that this time of year can be particularly poignant for our residents and we work twice as hard at filling this particular season full of memories. We go to local Christmas parades and tree lightings, light displays and giveaways, bake cookies, make ornaments (color some, bake some, melt mints to make some, glue some, print some, order some, etc.!), play Roll-A-Reindeer, wrap gifts and my favorite: putting up the tree.
Every year it gets me. The looks on their faces when they can hang their ornaments wherever they want. When one of the older girls “claims” the right to place the star on top (though every year it falls off and we end up going without it!). When they find their ornaments from the year, or years, before. When we hand them decorations and tell them they can put it up wherever they want in the house and they run around shrieking. (We also have mini-trees for each resident to put in their rooms and wreaths for their doors, if they choose.)
Many churches, groups, businesses and individuals donate to us at Christmas time. We have a few parties where the kids open gifts (each year they fill out a wish list and this information is passed on to groups who call and would like to do something) but also get donations delivered all throughout the month – both personally and through the mail. There are individual gifts and cottage gifts, meant for the group to share.
With so many donations it would be easy to say that the kids don’t need more, but every child who is with us over Christmas has a stocking to open on Christmas Eve and three presents (because Jesus got three) to open Christmas morning. If there has been a last minute donation these gifts will also be added to what house-parents have purchased for Christmas day. We work hard to get individual gifts we know each child will love and often, as with all children, it is the simplest one, or the packaging of it, that they love or play with the most.
For Gene and I this will be our sixth Christmas at Joy Ranch. For the first four, we did not have any residents on Christmas morning. Now, we have a few who are with us for all the holidays. Like many things about what we do I cannot decide which is more difficult: sending them home for a few days/hours or knowing that at this point in their life, they have nowhere to go. Which is harder for the child? Going home for a few days/hours or knowing that for right now, they have nowhere they can go? I cannot say and for each child, that choice may be different. What I do know is that Christmas is about, among many things, redemption. And that is something we all need.
What I do know is that Christmas is about, among many things, redemption. And that is something we all need.