Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, said the holiday was a particularly tough time to be without her son, who died in July after police put him in a chokehold while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island.
"This day is very special because he loved Christmas," Carr said. "From a kid, Christmas was always his favorite holiday. So I'm missing him right now."
Garner's widow, Esaw Garner, recalled how her husband would entertain their children and grandchildren every year.
"He dressed up, wore his little Christmas hat and played Santa Claus for the kids and the grandkids," she said, getting choked up. "He was a big Christmas baby."
Garner's two daughters and son helped dole out food to a long line of local residents. When they sat down to eat, Garner's grandkids ran around the table, stopping only when grabbed by doting family members for a hug.
Both Carr and Esaw Garner said they were also thinking of the families of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, killed last weekend in Brooklyn by gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley. Ramos was a father to two teenage boys, and Liu had been married just two months prior to the shooting.
"I feel very bad for the wife, and the children," Esaw Garner said. "You know, they experienced the same thing I did. He left for work and he didn't come home."
Her advice to the grieving families was to "just think about the good times." That's what she was trying to do, she said: "Just trying to keep a smile on my face and not think about him not being here, but holding on to the memories from last year."
"We stopped out of respect for the families," Carr said. "They need time, too, to mourn. So we're in respect of that."
"We needed to have a peaceful time for them to mourn," Esaw Garner agreed.
"But we will continue our protests," Carr added. "We just still ask for peace. When we do resume protesting, we still ask for peace. We don't want anybody out there protesting radically in my son's name."