The calendar was set on cheery and bright Tuesday, but the sky was a weary gray and Father Christmas likely felt the chill deep in his bones. Holiday warmth, however, comes from within.
A little drizzle couldn't dampen Cesar Contreras' spirits as he packed up baby gifts and newborn necessities for Lissandra Denise Contreras, born Dec. 22, and his wife, Johanna, on Christmas Day.
"Best present ever!" the first-time dad said with a grin as he headed back into Doctors Medical Center to bring home his family.
Less than a mile away, dad Akeem Warren stood outside his college neighborhood home watching his youngest son, Brayden, 6, zip up and down the sidewalk on a fat-wheeled, low-rider tricycle he had unwrapped that morning.
Santa brought mostly toys this year after all three kids brought home "brilliant report cards," Warren said. Last year's clothing purchases did not generate the same excitement, he added.
Very special clothes, however, made a memorable gift for 9-year-old Dallas Alvarez of Turlock. Her grandparents, Tammy and Leo Alvarez of Oakdale, had material from their wedding wear made into doll clothes to give to their five grandchildren for Christmas this year.
The three girls received dolls with wedding dresses in the same style as the original. The two boys received mini-men in tuxedos, complete with '70s-era ruffled shirts and vests.
Tammy Alvarez cried as she told the children the story, said Dallas' mom, Marquita Davenport. "She just wanted them all to have something really personal," Davenport said.
Making holiday memories was on Anthony Lee's mind as he waited in the Modesto Amtrak station after a 20-hour ride from Vancouver, Wash. He has eight days, spanning Christmas and New Year's, to make the most of being home after two years away, Lee said.
In a less-serious vein, Geoff Guerin of Ripon got a gag gift of "weight-loss rice" from a 9-year-old relative. Guerin, who said he needs to lose about 100 pounds, was to toss the uncooked rice on the floor, then pick it all up. Repeat as needed. "It's the best present I could ever get," Guerin said with a chuckle.
Another tough-to-top gift was given by George Vargas to Alicia Ortega of Modesto. Vargas' present was an engagement ring.
"We've been together three years. He said one year a friend. One year a girlfriend. One year a fiancée, and next year, his wife," Ortega said with a mile-wide smile.
In matching elf-eared hats, they walked in Graceada Park on Tuesday, giving German shepherd Lobo some exercise and looking for other dog lovers who might want him. In a bittersweet turn to their holiday, Vargas' grandfather is too ill to care for Lobo.
Emergency personnel know all too well the mix of good and bad that comes with the holidays. Modesto police officer Lyndon Yates said it had been a quiet Christmas.
"It will pick up this evening," he predicted.
Dave Murphy, part of an American Medical Response ambulance unit, said he'd had several medical calls.
Yates and Murphy stopped by Congregation Beth Shalom's annual dinner for first responders. Organizer Joyce Gandelman said she served about 200 this year and had prepared for more than 300 people Monday and Tuesday. That included about 35 dinners delivered to seniors as well, Gandelman said.
In a hall filled with puffy white flowers and a "Happy Hanukkah" sign, volunteers mixed salad and cooked trays of lasagna for emergency workers seeking a hot meal. Some would sit and eat, others grab a to-go meal, and for those who couldn't come such as dispatchers and jail staff volunteers delivered.
"Why not? They put their lives on the line for us. This is our way of giving back," said volunteer Gale Orland.
Also working on Christmas was Mona Kaur, co-owner of Millennium Foods on Sycamore Avenue.
"We need to support our neighbors," Kaur said as she rang up customers, most of whom she knew by name.
Janise Peepgrass popped in to buy champagne. "I'm making Christmas breakfast and decided I was making mimosas," she said with a laugh.
Customer Laura Wilson, however, was thinking of the future. She cashed in two lottery tickets and bought 20 more.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.