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Celebrating Christmas One Last Time

Nov 14, 2014 01:46PM ● Published by Marci Heugly

Christmas has been dubbed “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by storytellers and songwriters. But, for one West Jordan family, celebrating Christmas in October was bittersweet.

Ethan Van Leuven, 4, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 22 months old, recently lost his battle with cancer when he passed away the morning of Oct. 28. Before his death, his parents Jen and Merrill Van Leuven learned that Ethan had just days or weeks left to live, and they decided to make the most of their time with him.

Their West Jordan neighborhood pulled together to provide a holiday season that the Van Leuvens will never forget.

First, Ethan dressed up in his Superman costume 10 days before Halloween and went trick-or-treating to neighbors’ homes. Later in the week, the city had a parade to celebrate his birthday one month early. And, on Oct. 24, the Van Leuvens celebrated Christmas Eve early with family, friends and strangers who came to show their support. 

Christmas has been dubbed “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by storytellers and songwriters. But, for one West Jordan family, celebrating Christmas in October was bittersweet.

 “Words just do not adequately describe how grateful we are for all the love and support we have received. We have had such an outpouring of offers to help, which is truly amazing,” Merrill Van Leuven said about the celebration.

For the Christmas celebration, Captain Jason Spencer and firefighter Alex Harris from West Jordan Fire Station 55 drove Santa and Mrs. Claus (Alan and JoAnn Nielsen) to the Van Leuven’s house in a fire truck with the lights and sirens blazing.

They picked up the family and took them for a short ride around the neighborhood, then dropped them off to a crowd of friends and strangers who awaited them in their front yard. Santa and his wife spent a quiet moment with Ethan inside his home before coming outside to pass out candy canes on their way back to the North Pole. 

“It’s been amazing, and the whole community has been so involved,” neighbor Anja Peterson said.

Neighbors had decorated their yards for Halloween earlier in the week, and then quickly traded their jack-o-lanterns for snowmen and nativities. Many homes, including the Van Leuven’s, had Christmas lights hung and trees set up and decorated. 

“Someone had professionals come install the lights on their house. Then we showed up … with a few of the neighbors to set up for Christmas,” Lorin Palmer said about the day’s preparations.

Palmer is Ethan’s mom Jen’s ex-husband and is the father of his four older step-siblings.

That evening, neighbors and friends brought gifts and sang Christmas carols while the children joined some of the Van Leuven kids who dressed up like Mary and Joseph to act out the nativity.

Although the streets were full of supporters  Oct.24 to celebrate Christmas Eve, the Van Leuvens celebrated Christmas morning the next day with just family.

“Thank you for showing up. This has been a phenomenal outpouring of love and support for a boy who I call my superman,” Merrill Van Leuven told everyone who participated in the celebration. “Thank you for sharing your time, your love and your faith and prayers for a special little boy.”    
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