The holiday season, a time for joy and goodwill, brings out the best at Shriners Children’s. Our staff, patients, families and communities come together to spread happiness, give back and support each other. Here are a few highlights of the ways we celebrate this special time of year.
Lighting the night
For the past 23 years, the Halliwell family of Fairfield, Connecticut, has turned a beloved holiday tradition into an opportunity to give back to their community, and to Shriners Children’s New England in Springfield, Massachusetts. Gene, a member of Pyramid Shriners in Stratford, Connecticut, and his wife, Mary, personally welcome the thousands of people who travel to their home on Roseville Terrace to celebrate the season by viewing a stunning outdoor light display, typically attracting more than 25,000 guests every year.
Visitors to Wonderland at Roseville are offered cookies and hot cocoa as they stroll through the Halliwell’s property, all free of charge. Guests can make donations to Shriners Children’s New England, and to date, the Halliwells have collected $185,000 for the hospital.
In California, the Sacramento Police and Fire Departments team up every year to bring some holiday magic to patients at Shriners Children’s Northern California by rolling into the front parking circle and filling the night sky with flashing and strobing lights. Young patients and families watch and wave back with flashlights of their own from the windows of hospital rooms above. The special night lights up the sky, but more importantly lifts the spirits of young children at the Northern California Shriners Hospital.
“This gift from the Sacramento Police, Sacramento Fire and Sacramento Regional Transit has become a special tradition that brings joy, excitement and a little light of hope to our patients and families throughout the holiday season,” said Michelle O’Hara, Manager of Therapeutic Recreation and Child Life.
The light show is part of a national Good Night Lights program that brings a holiday light show to children every week of the holiday season. Every December, a collective effort is made by local police and fire departments to illuminate the lives of children who are currently hospitalized.
Since 2019, Bill Collins of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, has donated tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of Lego sets to the patients at Shriners Children’s New England during the holiday season. His family’s connection to the healthcare system has made the Lego project a personal mission.
Collins’ son, William, became a Shriners Children’s patient when he was diagnosed with idiopathic infantile scoliosis when he was a year old. Now 5, William’s spinal curve has been reduced from 57 degrees to just 10 degrees and is monitored regularly at Shriners Children’s New England. He still wears a back brace, but only while sleeping.
“It’s amazing to watch William run around with his sister, play soccer and tennis and explore the world brace-free,” said Bill. “There’s no stopping him!”
The level of comfort and peace of mind Shriners Children’s provided to Bill and his family as they navigated unknown territory with their baby boy is something that he will never forget.
“I know the joy my own kids experience from receiving Legos, so I wanted to pass along that same feeling to other children and their families,” he said.
Santa comes to town
The holiday spirit comes alive throughout the Shriners Children’s system when Santa comes to town.
Santa Claus, the children’s favorite visitor, makes his way around our facilities, bringing joy and a welcome distraction from the worry that may come from being in a medical facility.
At our Lexington, Kentucky, location, Santa’s visits are coordinated through the recreational therapy program, which aims to provide distraction, play and enrichment opportunities for patients to ease their fears and build their confidence during what could otherwise be intimidating procedures.
“A visit from Santa brightens everyone’s day, but for our patients, you can tell by the smile on their faces that it makes such a difference,” said Frazann Milbern, a recreational therapist at Shriners Children’s Lexington. “The patients and families are always so excited that their kids will get to see Santa. Each year, I hear stories that the family could not get to the mall or store to see Santa, so to have him here for a doctor’s appointment is always exciting.”
A visit to the “North Pole”
At our Chicago location, patients have a chance to see Santa’s workshop. Last year, because of COVID, Shriners Children’s Chicago moved Santa’s workshop outdoors as part of the hospital’s first outdoor Lights of Love festival, allowing patients and families, and bears of all kinds, to celebrate the season safely. The Chicago Bears provided a bear hug from Staley Da Bear and had Bears goodies as giveaways for patients. Community partner Little Elves of Love set up a tent of toys for families to walk through and pick out favorites, keeping the tradition intact. The event was complete with hot chocolate, music and, of course, our system’s mascot, Fezzy.
From everyone at Shriners Children’s, happy holidays!