From the number of comments and Facebook posts I’ve seen, most people will already have the Christmas decorations boxed and put away before they read this on Jan. 2.

I won’t be one of them. Our Christmas tree stays up until Jan. 6 each year.

Yes, part of it is because I love the look of my mismatched ornaments, each with its story to tell under the colored lights. And, yes, part of it’s because I’m clinging as tightly as I can to the tradition the 12 Days of Christmas begins on Christmas Day.

But in those 10 days between Dec. 26 and Jan. 6, it’s also a reminder to stop and remember the spirit of the holidays.

If you’re like me, December is filled with hustle and bustle, preparing for Christmas and gifts and family visits and secret Santas.

As a reporter, it’s also the most frenzied time of the year with events and food drives and concerts and a dozen places to be at the same time and only one camera.

After Christmas, everything hushes in a sated calm.

For once a year, the city is quiet and at peace, filled with memories of the holidays and a desire to rest before the start of the new year.

People think about what the next year will bring, how the years have changed, what to chose for a resolution. You’re tired, you deserve a rest, but in those moments of quiet, do you ever stop and think about how many events take place in the greater Hermiston area, especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Let’s do a quick rundown: Festival of Lights, the Lighted Parade, Journey to Bethlehem, the Living Nativity, Hermiston Festival of Trees, Christmas Express, two Community Fellowship Dinners, the Inland Northwest Musicians holiday concerts, food basket programs in Echo, Umatilla, Stanfield.

Each one is impressive and worth taking pride in. Each one brings enjoyment to those in our community.

But you know what else each one of those have in common? Volunteers.

For each one of those events, people volunteer their time, talents, gifts, food or financials.

People spend hours organizing, running, setting up, breaking down, cleaning, calculating and improvising at each, all without receiving anything in return.

The hours and number of volunteers would be impressive for any one of these events. Now, look again. We’re talking about 11 different events, many that run over a series a days, and that’s not taking into account all the organization before hand. It’s impressive.

Last month, I volunteered twice at the Festival of Lights. I stood in the rain and snow, counted the number of visitors and held up a bucket for donations.

It was cold, it was wet, it was long — and it was a wonderful experience I’d do again in a heartbeat. As Karen Hutchinson-Talaski said, “It is amazing how many people you recognize and have a little chat with. The little children’s faces are lit up like Christmas trees when they enter the gates -- either the lights or the idea that Santa is somewhere on the grounds seems to send a thrill through them.”

But from my nine hours in the cold, three things stand out for me: 1. The little girl in her snowsuit who froze in place when she came around the ticket booth and saw the lights. She wouldn’t move and barely blinked, staring at the displays, and, probably, the line of strangers she had to pass through to find her mom’s hand.

2. How many people gave $5, $10 or $20 at the gate, even if it was only a couple walking through.

3. Pirouline rolled wafters. The second Saturday I stood at the gate, a van pulled up in front of the ticket booth. Two young girls jumped out and ran over to where Holly Dillemuth and I were standing with our buckets. Instead of the usual questions — How much does it cost, is the carriage running, is Santa here — they handed us a round tin of the chocolate cookies. “These are for you,” they said. Then they ran back to the van, climbed in and went on their way. To the little girls and the driver of that van: Thank you.

To the community at large: Be proud. Not only is our community full of volunteers; it’s full of people willing to give back to those volunteers. No area is perfect, but, when it comes to heart, no one does it like this area this year.

Every area has dark days, crimes and negative impacts, but it’s experiences like these December events that truly make a community.

I’m proud to have been a part of this community in 2012. I know I missed the midnight countdown and 2013 is already upon us, but here’s a toast to everyone who volunteered or donated in 2012.

Even if no one knows what you’ve done, you’ve made a difference. So here’s my request for Umatilla and Morrow counties in 2013: Keep doing what you’re doing, and, if you can, do it even better.

Jennifer Colton is the community reporter for the Hermiston Herald. She can be reached at jcolton@hermistonherald.com.

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