Judi Thomas, a 30-year-plus member of the Clarendon Hills Chapter of the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago has been told that pilots flying on Christmas Eve will point out Clarendon Hills from the air. It’s easy to spot the village that night as the winding streets are lit with the simplest materials imaginable: plumbers candles, sand, and paper bags. However humble these supplies might be, when combined, their effect is simply magical.
Lighting the luminaria, meaning “little fire,” has been a Clarendon Hills tradition since 1965 when chapter member Vi Humphreys introduced the Southwestern idea to Norfolk Avenue.
The next year, the village asked the chapter to promote the luminaria and the membership agreed to take on the project as a fundraiser, and Clarendon Hills residents have chosen to “light a candle for a child” in greater numbers each and every year. Proceeds support Infant Welfare Society of Chicago, providing high-quality care to medically underserved women and children. The level of well-child, pediatric dental, and family health care that Infant Welfare Society provides is extraordinary. The clinic serves more than 12,000 people each year.
Each year, participation grew and the idea spread. Other communities adopted the luminaria tradition, always turning to the Clarendon Hills chapter for the kits. Today, the chapter takes orders from other chapters, out-of-town individuals, homeowners associations, and others, and they are the largest single customer of the candle company in the country.
Almost everyone in town participates. Neighbors offer luminaria kits as housewarming gifts to the new residents who may not be familiar with this beloved tradition. These very good neighbors also happily take on the task of lighting the luminaria at homes where the owners are out of town. This ensures that the chain of lights is unbroken and truly breathtaking.
Chapter member Kelly Craig emphasizes the community spirit behind the luminaria. Local Girl Scout and Brownie troops participate in “rolling” kits while the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts handle the setup and lighting of the luminaria in the downtown area each year. Members of Hinsdale Central High School’s Chapter of the National Honor Society help out to earn community service hours. Young adults with disabilities who participate in the District 86 occupational therapy transitional program also help out a great deal.
The luminaria that appear each year seem to do so by magic, like so many magical things, a small army of people make it happen. Chapter President Jackie Anglin acknowledges the partnership of the Lions Club, which offers the ladies space to sell the kits along with storage space between selling dates. “Kinsella Landscaping donates six tons of sand. It takes up some space and we are very grateful for the parking lot at Lions Park,” Jackie says. This partnership makes Lions Park the destination for holiday decorating as it also serves as the spot for the Lions’ annual tree and wreath fundraiser.
In addition to the many groups who partner with and support the chapter, members site their husbands, fathers, and children as invaluable in this large-scale undertaking. Help is happily given, as this is so much more than a fundraiser, it’s also a celebration of community.
Both Judi Thomas and Kelly Craig mention that as Christmas Eve approaches and multiple generations of families gather, many will make an occasion out of purchasing, setting up, and lighting the luminaria together.
As a multigenerational group, this delights the members on many levels. Member Ann Schenck is the daughter of founding member Kay Rose and the mother of former Chapter President and Auxiliary Board member Peg Boutchia. Although Kay Rose is now deceased, her legacy lives on in the chapter, which honors her each spring with the Kay Rose Dinner. Peg has her daughter volunteering already. Surely this will one day be a four-generation family.
These simple sand-filled paper bags never fail to inspire a sense of awe and wonder. It takes a village to make it happen, and for one night a year, this tiny village glitters and glows, visible even from the sky, alight with community spirit.
Luminaria sales will kick off on December 7 at the Clarendon Hills Christmas Walk in downtown Clarendon Hills. Sales move to Lions Park for two weekends of selling, December 15–16 and December 22–23. Luminaria kits may also be purchased at Kramer Foods and Clarendon Hills Bank.