More than 1,200 Chicago families will receive free Christmas trees to brighten the holiday season when Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, serving again this year as Chicago’s Christmas Ship, returns to Navy Pier on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.
The joyful tradition of serving the city’s communities continues for the 23rd year and is the result of wide-ranging coordination led by the Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee and its logistical partnership with the Coast Guard and Ada S. McKinley Community Services. The committee procures the trees in Northern Michigan through the support of private donations, and the Coast Guard transports them to Chicago while conducting a regularly scheduled mission maintaining buoys on Lake Michigan. Once the trees are unloaded, they are distributed to community nonprofits, coordinated by Ada S. McKinley Community Services.
This year’s event marks a full return from the pandemic restrictions of the last several years. The tree offloading will kick off Saturday at 8:30 a.m., followed by the official tree ceremony at 10 a.m. with Rear Adm. Michael Johnston, Ninth Coast Guard District Commander, and Ada S. McKinley Community Services CEO Jamal Malone, at the Lake Stage at Polk Brothers Park on the southwest wall of Navy Pier. All are invited as Mackinaw crew and community volunteers off-load the trees onto trucks. A choir will perform, along with members of the Coast Guard Academy Glee Club and the Coast Guard Silent Drill Team, and Christmas Ship balladeer Lee Murdock will entertain the crowd.
Free public tours of the ship will be available from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, and again Saturday from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“We are honored to continue the tradition of Captain Herman Schuenemann and the original Christmas Tree Ship, bringing joy and hope to those in need over the holiday season,” said Capt. Dave Truitt of the Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee.
“We are proud to join the members of the Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee, the Coast Guard, and Navy Pier to help bring joy and the warmth of the holidays by ensuring thousands of Chicagoans get a Christmas tree. At a time when rising prices have forced families to make tough purchasing decisions, we are happy to eliminate worries about buying a Christmas tree. These trees symbolize the value of family and community. Our collective efforts represent volunteers’ love, caring and compassion as they bring joy to neighborhoods throughout Chicago,” said Jamal Malone, CEO of Ada S. McKinley Community Services.
Through generous volunteer efforts, more than 26,000 trees have been distributed at no charge to families across the city for more than two decades now. As an important part of Chicago’s maritime heritage, this event honors the crew of the schooner Rouse Simmons, the original Chicago Christmas Ship, lost with all hands during a gale Nov. 23, 1912 while transporting 5,000 trees to Chicago.
“It’s truly an honor to participate in this event each year,” Rear Adm. Johnston said. “It commemorates both the spirit of generosity displayed by the captain and crew of the Rouse Simmons and the courage of generations of mariners who have sailed the Great Lakes, helping bring comfort and prosperity to millions of people along our shores.”
The reenactment of Chicago’s Christmas Ship is now a beloved holiday-season event, thanks to the continued efforts of additional partners, including the International Shipmasters’ Association, Chicago Marine Heritage Society, Chicago’s Navy Pier, the Navy League of the United States, Chicago Yacht Clubs, Friends of the Marine Community, and the Chicago Yachting Association.