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In observance of the Memorial Day holiday, the Daily Chronicle newspaper will not be published May 28. Breaking news and information will be updated on

Duchnowski: Hunting for meaningful holiday gifts

By 7 a.m. Friday, I had more presents for pets than for people.

I took advantage of PetSmart’s Black Friday specials to score treats and bones BlackJack regularly eats at half-price, but I didn’t stop there: I got treats for my aunt’s two dogs, high-end cat food for the stray my friend’s mom feeds, and cat and dog treats for a few friends. I was among the first 100 people in the DeKalb store, so I also got a free stocking stuffed with treat samples.

BlackJack, my 30-pound cocker spaniel-poodle mix, sat outside the pantry whining after I stocked the treats in their bin. And I slowly became a little depressed about my Christmas shopping outlook.

The youngest generation of Duchnowskis hasn’t hit 2 yet, so our family gatherings haven’t yet evolved to build magic for those young enough to have only met Santa a few times. Meanwhile, the cousins and parents are grown up and financially secure enough that they want for little and treat themselves occasionally. I’m stuck with the prospect of buying something for people who have everything.

I’ve been creative in the past. One year, I bought everyone gift certificates to Kiva, the nonprofit that facilitates microloans to low-income and underserved entrepreneurs, so they could choose their own small ventures abroad to support. Another year, I harassed my older family members for old photographs, researched family history with and gave everyone a hard-bound book detailing my discoveries.

Two years ago, I asked Kevin Trudo, an Aurora musician, to write a song about my family, using details about our adventures and goals over the past year or so. I set my dad to work digging up family photographs to coordinate with the lyrics, and Trudo made a video slideshow to accompany his song. The result made my parents cry; I still listen to it occasionally.

But Friday, I couldn’t think of anything fresh. I remembered all the cute things a former first-grade teacher I know does with her family: She bakes a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve, spreads reindeer food on the lawn, and has her children do a scavenger hunt on Christmas Eve for new sets of pajamas. In a yummy twist on the Advent calendar, she has her children decorate a miniature gingerbread man each night from Dec. 1 to Dec. 24. When I’m a mom, I want to create special traditions like that for my children.

I know Christmas is about much more than presents, but part of me still misses that anticipation of seeing family members’ responses to an amazing gift. I haven’t come up with anything particularly special and unique in the past few days, but I didn’t sit around and pout, either.

I spent another couple hours on Black Friday shopping for a child in need for a church Christmas party. My 9-year-old will get a doll, lip gloss, a Hello Kitty bath set and boots that have both fluffy fur lining and a rating indicating they can be worn in temperatures of 10 below. I hope she feels like a million bucks the first time she walks to school in them.

Tell me: How do you make Christmas special for your family?

• Jillian Duchnowski is the Daily Chronicle’s news editor. Reach her at 815-756-4841, ext. 2221, or email

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