On Christmas morning Peter Facinelli and his wife, Jennie Garth, look forward to the moment when their three daughters burst through their bedroom door around 7 a.m., crawl across the covers and announce it's present time. "They try to let us sleep in, but they're so excited they can't wait," says Garth. "They look so innocent, excited and full of expectation." Adds Facinelli of the girls' pure joy: "Their faces are lit up like no other time of the year."
Call it the Facinelli Christmas Glow—which sparks from a love for the holidays that the couple have handed down to their daughters Luca Bella, 12, Lola Ray, 7, and Fiona Eve, 3. "Holidays were always important to my family," says Facinelli, 36, who wants to pass down the same lesson that he learned from his Italian immigrant parents about the Christmas season. "It's about being together and celebrating."
Lately quality time for the Facinelli Five has been fleeting: The New Moon
actor spent this past fall shuttling between the Vancouver set of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
—the third chapter of the wildly popular vampire series, due out next summer—and New York City, where he films his hit TV drama Nurse Jackie
opposite Edie Falco. In the meantime, Garth, 37, has been holding down the fort at their L.A. home, juggling their daughters' car-pool schedules and her gig on the CW's 90210
. But this year the holidays have reunited the entire clan in their own L.A. zip code, where Facinelli's main focus is recruiting his daughters to help outfit their colonial-style home with decorations ranging from Santa pillows to singing Christmas trees. "I want to make sure I'm there with my kids," says Facinelli. "They grow up quickly, and I want them to really experience each holiday. So we make sure every one of them is filled with joy and love."
And plenty of fun. As soon as his daughters open their eyes on Christmas morning, each discovers a new snow globe awaiting them. "Santa leaves them in their rooms by their sleeping heads," says Garth. The little Facinellis then flock together before descending upon their sleeping parents and dragging them out of bed. "We come downstairs in our jammies," says Garth, "and we light a fire even if it's hot outside."
But not before the bed-headed bunch surveys the area around the fireplace where a certain Mr. Claus usually leaves an untidy trail—much to the delight of Facinelli's daughters. "He leaves dirty soot footprints and cookie crumbs everywhere!" Facinelli says of their annual visitor, who devours homemade sugar cookies that the girls put out the night before. "The reindeer are very messy too," adds Garth. "They always leave carrots all over the place!"
All is forgiven once Luca, Lola and Fiona add to the mess as they attack their own towering piles of gifts. "There is the ruckus of paper-ripping and boxes being thrown about," says Facinelli. "Peter's hands get numb by the end of the day after opening so many plastic packages," adds Garth.
The scene brings Facinelli back to the Christmas mornings he spent with his three older sisters and boisterous extended family growing up in Queens. "I have memories of ripping open presents," recalls Facinelli. A thousand miles away, Garth's holidays were much more serene on her family's sprawling farm in rural Illinois. "I can remember riding horses in the snow," says Garth. "It was idyllic, and the essence of Christmas was everywhere."
The same could be said for the Facinelli family room once all their Christmas loot is unwrapped. "We tear through everything until it looks like a bomb went off!" says Garth. But even though they're surrounded by scraps of ribbon and wrapping and half-opened boxes bursting with assembly-required toys, "there's such a peaceful feeling about the day," says Garth. As Facinelli puts it, "It's heaven."
Their family favorites
While one of Facinelli's prized decorations is a singing Elvis ornament, Garth collects the more classic Belsnickle figures.
Says Facinelli: "The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. The girls count all the presents to make sure Santa was fair."
Facinelli painstakingly puts up a porcelain town around the base of the family's tree, just like the one he had as a kid. "I kept that tradition."