Decked out with balloons complete with trimmings, a mountain of presents stacked in the center of the banquet hall, this five star hotel was about to enlighten the lives of many. Tables were laden with an array of delicious food and sweets. If one didn't know they would guess that a private school or other wealthy children's club was throwing an elaborate Christmas party. The honored guests arrived, all orphans from Moscow's surrounding villages. Dressed in their finest clothes, all second-hand clothing donated from others, it was the children's first time to visit the city. For some guests it was the first time ever to leave the orphanage. As each of the five hundred children entered, their solemn faces widened into looks of amazement and awe. One little girl shouted, "Is all of this for us?" Many others seated themselves quietly, waiting.
As waitresses served a full-course dinner, the children ate to their hearts' content. One little girl was overheard saying, "What is this pretty material on the table?" Her teacher answered saying, "It's a tablecloth. It's what normal people decorate their tables with." Orphanages in this part of the world manage with the bare essentials; tablecloths are definitely not among the necessities.
It may have seemed puzzling to some attendees why the children didn't want to open their cans of soda, but rather asked for water.
Seven-year-old Misha explained that a soda is so precious that it needs to be saved. "We never have any of these treats at the orphanage. And here we're getting all of this in one day. We want to make these treats last as long as possible."
This is the seventh year that Love's Bridge has hosted a Christmas party for the orphan children of the Moscow region. The first few years the children received gifts at their orphanages and attended a little party on site. Each child was presented with a goodie bag filled with toiletries and sweets. We decided it wasn't enough. Now the children are invited into Moscow to hotels and restaurants. Presents are collected from companies and individuals alike, making the party a community effort.
The highlight continues to be the presents. It means so much to these children to receive something to call their own. Wiggling in their seats when the presents are handed out, a few tear off the wrapping. The majority wait patiently until they are alone. In the words of nine-year-old Marina, "I've wished for a baby doll my whole life, and now I finally have one. This is the happiest day of my life."
A British friend who has spent the last three months helping Love's Bridge by wrapping thousands of presents couldn't understand why they weren't ripping off the paper with boisterous squeals of joy, but instead were surreptitiously holding them to their chests or shaking them. Others fingered the brightly colored ribbons in awe.
"It's a shame to open them now," explained 16-year-old Nadya, as she looked up with shining eyes. "It's a shame to tear this beautiful paper. I'll wait till I get home and open them there, slowly and carefully and all by myself."
According to orphanage director Vera Viktorevna, "Being invited to this event is such a treat for the children. Last year it was all the children could talk about. The present each was given is the only personal toy the children receive all year long. The children keep it by their beds and treasure every moment of their playtime. The children had been asking me all November long if Love's Bridge was going to invite them to a Christmas party. You can imagine their joy when you did. Thank you!"