Return of a Beloved Tradition: the Annual Tree Lighting Illuminates Mercy Home

Return of a Beloved Tradition: the Annual Tree Lighting Illuminates Mercy Home

For the past two years at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, much of the Christmas magic has been shared between screens, separated from our loved ones near and far. Making the most of our collective isolation during the pandemic meant that virtual holiday events became the norm.

This year, though, we couldn’t have been more grateful to carefully bring back a beloved Mercy Home tradition – Mercy Home’s 30th annual Tree Lighting. Gathered in the cafeteria, kids, coworkers, board members, and other special guests came together to ring in the holiday season and to reflect on the ways Mercy Home and our kids have been a beacon of light to every part of our city.

In the dim, warm glow of the cafeteria Fr. Scott Donahue first addressed the crowd with a poetic interpretation of the Christmas story and its implications for us today. “The Christmas story is your story and it’s my story. It’s a story of good news for all of us, today, and for the world in which we live,” he said.

He then read a reflection sent to him from a friend, highlighting the wonder of Christmas trees. “Our Christmas trees want to talk to us… We may experience catastrophic weather, a pandemic, threatened health, be overstressed at work, dipping finances, struggling in our relationships, in a world either slightly or wildly insane,” he said.

“However, our Christmas trees glow. Their lights whisper: ‘Give all the difficult things that afflict you their due, but do not give them your soul.’ You are more than the darkness that surrounds you.”

– Fr. Scott

Fr. Scott then thanked our kids for how they continue to positively influence those around them.

“You are the lights in the darkness of a world that at times can be very difficult. You carry the light and you do it so beautifully in our community and here at Mercy Home, both on our West Side campus and down at the Walsh campus,” he said.

The crowd then enjoyed a fun and lighthearted video highlighting a few of our kids as they named their favorite Christmas movies and sang an acapella rendition of Jingle Bells, with one of our young people accompanying the song with her ukulele. Home Alone and Elf were certainly crowd favorites!

Next, as is tradition, young people from both campuses shared highlights from their service projects, ways in which they impacted marginalized and venerated groups across the city of Chicago. Their incredible acts of kindness and bravery ranged from feeding the homeless, volunteering with abandoned pets, making holiday cards for refugees, helping to clean up the neighborhood, and remembering veterans by serving meals for them on Veteran’s Day.

A catalogue of their missions was put together into a ceremonial Book of Service, which our young people present each year as a gift to the city and the people of Chicago. As it has done for 30 years, the book engraved the hard work and incredible sacrifices our kids made for their community. The book was presented to standing City Clerk Anna Valencia, who accepted it on behalf of the City of Chicago. We were also thankful to have Chicago Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. on hand to help us ring in the Christmas season.

Then, before the tree was officially lit, guests had one more surprise in store for them. To help count us down to the tree lighting, Santa Claus revealed himself to the crowd and shared a festive, high-spirited moment with the crowd. Finally, it was time to light the tree. After a joyful countdown, the magnificent twelve-foot tree was brought to life, illuminating the smiles of every guest in attendance.

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