The Party They Gave Away


All the gifts, all the food, all the treats are for someone else. It’s the best kind of Christmas party to give.

Every December, the youth of the Holladay 24th Ward, Holladay Utah North Stake, put on an amazing Christmas party. They decorate with beautiful lights, have a delicious dinner, make Christmas goodies, and receive hundreds of gifts.

Sound fun? It is, because none of it is for the teens themselves. They give it all away.

For nine years, the youth have put on a Christmas party at their ward building for elementary school students—about 50 children each year—from local low-income areas. The event includes a variety of themed rooms designed to make the children’s Christmas unforgettable.

In the Bethlehem room, children learn about the birth of the Savior as they dress up and act out the Nativity while reading the story from Luke.

In the Santa Claus room, they get their picture taken while receiving their own fleece blankets made by the youth. The children also choose a box full of home-baked treats to give to their families. Their teenage “buddy” for the evening also reads them their favorite Christmas story.

And then there’s a stop at the North Pole Diner for a scrumptious Christmas dinner.

As wonderful as each of these rooms is, they’re not what make this party so extraordinary. The big event happens in the cultural hall. When the children enter this area, their eyes get really big, and exclamations of “Wow!” fill the air. Some of the little ones even jump up and down with anticipation. For there before them is a “store,” just like the big stores downtown, full of hundreds of donated gifts.

But, like the youth of the ward who choose to give their Christmas party away each year, the children aren’t excited to pick these gifts for themselves. They are overjoyed because this is the first time for most of them to be able to get Christmas gifts for their family. “The best part of Christmas is giving, and this gives the kids the chance to experience the joy of giving themselves,” says Tiffany Thompson, 15.

At the end of the evening, adult volunteers from the ward drive the children home with bags full of gifts, treats, and a ham and other food items their parents can use to make a wonderful Christmas dinner. “It touches your heart to see kids who otherwise would not have anything to give to their families be able to give them so much,” says Valen Campbell, 17, who co-chaired this year’s party.

The giving doesn’t stop there. Even after the hundreds of hours of combined effort involved in putting on this service activity, youth of the ward say they are the ones who receive. “The children serve us, because they teach us about being selfless,” says 17-year-old Whitney Drage, the event’s other co-chair. “If there are gifts left over at the end, we let the children pick a gift for themselves. One year a little 8-year-old girl asked me, ‘Instead of getting a gift for myself, could I just choose another one for my sister?’”

Becca Nelson, 14, adds, “It brings us the true meaning of Christmas: Christlike service. These kids are such an example of that. They hardly want anything for themselves, only for their families.”

The project also brings unity to the youth, the ward, and even the community. Ward members and members of other faiths help serve the Christmas dinner, donate food and gifts, and transport the children to and from the party. “It brings everyone closer because it takes everyone to make it work,” says Valen.

Perhaps these are the reasons the youth keep putting on this party year after year. “We had one year when we thought we’d do something else, but there was a ‘revolt,’” Bishop Gerreld Pulsipher says with a smile. “The youth and ward really look forward to giving this service.”

George Theodore, the counselor and social worker at the children’s school, adds, “This will be a Christmas these kids will never forget. When you’re not used to having something so special, the memory always stays in your heart. I think these kids will in turn give to others someday when they have a little extra to give.”

[photos] Christmas party photography by Barbara Jean Jones and Kent Ethington; background photography by Matt Reier

[photos] Each Christmas, teens from the Holladay 24th Ward create a Christmas party for about 50 children from local low-income areas. The youth organize the party, gather the gifts, make treats and blankets, and decorate the chapel.

[photos] The children, with their teen “buddies,” act out the Nativity in the “Bethlehem room,” eat dinner at the “North Pole Diner,” and receive gifts in the “Santa Claus room.” The children took presents home to their families.

Barbara Jean Jones is a member of the Wasatch Ward, Salt Lake Hillside Stake.