My husband and I have a long standing holiday traditional. It has to be around 15 years that we’ve been doing this. That’s my best guess based on the following facts.

In ’98 or ’99 I volunteered for Free Arts MN. At the time it was a project of the Junior League of Minneapolis and I was a new member. My job at Free Arts, in addition to being the Communications Coordinator was to go into domestic abuse shelters with a team of volunteers and do art projects with kids while their moms were in therapy. The following year I’d help pilot a program called Parents and Children Together (PACT).

It was during this time that I learned of the shelter’s Santa Shop. Santa Shop is where the shelter is turned into a shopping event for the kids. Each volunteer aka Elf is assigned a child to shop with. You take them throughout the different rooms to find presents for their siblings and moms.


The rooms are divided into different age ranges so you can find gifts more easily. You wander from room to room trying not to bump into your kid’s siblings because you don’t want them to see what has been picked out for them.

Then you go to wrapping stations and help the kids wrap the gifts. What a truly amazing experience for kids.

Depending on how old the kids are they either get it or they don’t. By that I mean, some kids are just too young to understand what you’re doing. They just pick out gifts for themselves. This isn’t totally bad. If you know who is shopping with their sibling you can tell them what the child really liked.

Some kids are so thoughtful when given the opportunity to shop for others. It’s so fun to watch how much time in effort they put into selecting gifts.

The event runs for three days. We typically volunteer on Saturday because it works best for our schedule. Also, since it’s the last day you can be a little more liberal with the gifts.

I’m always amazed at how excited kids get to wrap gifts. The thought of using scissors, paper, and tape really blows some kids’ minds. Especially tape. It’s fun to watch kids really tape up a gift so that their brothers and sisters can’t peek at what they got them. I also like seeing how creative kids gets with wrapping gifts, especially ones that are oddly shaped.

After the kids shop and wrap gifts they are reunited with their moms. Then they can visit with Santa and pick out a book. Carter and I never miss an opportunity to get our picture taken with Santa.


You’re never too old or too cool to get a picture with Santa.

There are cookies and juice to indulge in. New this year was an arts and crafts station. Once you’re done shopping with a child you start all over again.

The volunteers during our shift were a mix of people who had served there many times before and newbies. It’s fun to see how everyone dresses for the occasion, from the necklace and Santa hat to the full on elf costume. Note, Carter and I need to up our game next year. Necklaces just aren’t cutting it for volunteers that have been doing it this long.

This is the one event that truly gets me into the holiday spirit! I look forward to it every year.

What holiday tradition(s) do you look forward to?

Thanks for stopping by! Julie

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