When I was in high school, my sister's best friend since forever became one of my dear friends too. We all ran on the cross country team together, and often shared rides to and from events as we were only about 3 miles from each other. Every year we would stop at her house on our way to Christmas Eve services. Her mom would always serve us ginger ale (in a paper cup) and Greek pastries as we traded our trinkets. Throughout high school and college it was part of what we did. When we all moved away, I missed our little tradition, done amongst her aunts baking and preparing for the holiday.
Today I took Boy and Girly to their friend's to exchange gifts. They live about half a mile from us, and are in the same grade as ours. We have already started trading off ("I'd like to take the boys fishing if you'd keep the girls") and it only proves to happen more as the boys head to the middle school next year and leave the girls behind in elementary school. Girly had made her friend some homemade cards, and Boy gave his bud a little picture of them together during baseball season.
Tonight, we head to our friend's house for our Christmas Eve tradition here. It is with our group of friends here in town, and I described it as my church earlier this season, and it is. These people are a very accepting, loving, giving group, and we're lucky to be a part of their world. The details are different this year-- music instead of Christmas readings, a different house, and bestfriends joining us (!)-- but we will all be together, celebrating each other.
Christmas for me is about the people, and while my Christmas Eve memories begin with ginger ale in a paper cup, sandwiched between family commitments, they do not end there. Tonight when I lift my ginger ale cup in my friend's mom's memory (she died of cancer about 10 years ago) I will also toast to many years of the kids heading to their friends house for a few stolen hours of fun before each family heads to their event.