Holiday traditions: Warm the Children helps me prepare for Christmas season
This year isn’t exactly my year without a Santa Claus.
But my own personal holiday celebrations are changing, as my family gets older and elements of loss creep into celebrations.
We’re still getting used to spending Christmas without Grandpa Jack, who died in spring 2011 but leaves so many memories that he and my mother-in-law created with their family.
And I’m adjusting to what’s become a toyless holiday in my household as my children grow out of Legos and Playmobil and the type of imaginative play that I held onto as long as I could while I grew out of my own childhood.
We also face the lack of time that crushes so many other families amid jobs, school, homework, the occasional illness, volunteering and just maintaining sanity amid the daily demands. We managed to put up a Christmas tree. Cards, decorating, baking - everything else has fallen off of the list of what my family and I have been able to accomplish as we approach the holidays.
But we’re trying to focus on what’s truly important. We’re having discussions of faith. We’re making time for people, even if our home is messy and our meals are simple.
And I’ve been able to cherish maintaining what’s become my own holiday tradition: Working as a volunteer shopper for Warm the Children.
The program started at the Ann Arbor News in 1997. A year later, I left my infant at home with my husband as I completed my first volunteer shopping trip. And every year since, whether I worked at the News or elsewhere, and then as I moved into AnnArbor.com, that shopping has been an important part of my holiday.
Demands on time are not unique to the Gardner family. Some nights, it’s been a challenge to squeeze in the trips, now taking place at Target, as I shop with community members who get to spend $90 each on clothing for their kids. Some are shopping for one. The most I’ve shopped with had eight.
Each expresses joy at the experience. Each is grateful.
And each lets me share in both emotions, as I both become joyful and grateful that I have the chance to not only participate in fulfilling need but also getting a front-line reminder of what the holiday season needs to be about: We take care of each other. We make time for people. We are compassionate neighbors.
(Warm the Children seeks to raise $250,000 by the end of the year to clothe 3,000 children from Washtenaw County in 2013. Donations can be made by mailing a check with a donation form or visiting any United Bank and Trust branch in Washtenaw County. Call the Warm The Children hotline, at 734-623-2525, with questions. )
Paula Gardner is Community News Director of AnnArbor.com. She can be reached by email.