IOWA CITY — It could be the start of a new Christmas tradition.
Just like the thousands of football fans in Kinnick Stadium who can’t wait for an announcer’s prompt after the first quarter to start waving up at kids in the next-door Children’s Hospital, hundreds of people standing Monday outside Kinnick couldn’t wait for the official 6:30 p.m. start time for the “holiday wave.”
“We wish you a merry Christmas,” one women shouted in leading the crowd of families, students, grandparents and kids in the traditional Christmas carol.
Several minutes before the clock struck 6:30. the crowd stared waving cellphone flash lights and multicolored glow sticks up at patients in the 14-floor University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Upstairs in the tower, darkened silhouettes gathered in the windows and waved back down.
“I’m just out here to support these guys and be thankful for what we have and understand the things they don’t,” said William Baldwin, 44, of Iowa City.
Baldwin was wearing a full-body pink bunny suit — as in “The Christmas Story” — and twirling a large multicolored flashing wand, with thick glow sticks affixed to his calves with zip ties.
He — like several hundred others standing near him Monday night — had seen the Children’s Hospital holiday wave proposed on Facebook.
“I thought it was a great cause and we’d come down here to support it,” he said.
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After the new UI Children’s Hospital opened in 2017, community members created the “wave” as a way fans inside Kinnick could acknowledge the kids watching over their shoulders from the adjacent hospital.
The concept captured the country, earning ESPN coverage and viral social media posts, with Hawkeye opponents joining in and even waving from visiting stadiums.
And though home football games are done for the season, some thought the holidays warranted a wave encore.
Those who participated in Monday night’s wave couldn’t get into Kinnick for the event, but they crowded the sidewalks below and sang Christmas carols, with emergency vehicles turning on their lights and driving by slowly at the 6:30 p.m. go-time, a parade of sorts.
“It’s kind of like a new tradition,” said Hannah Stein, 23, of Iowa City, who just graduated nursing school and is set to start her career in the UI Hospitals and Clinics neonatal intensive care unit in February. “So I had to come.”
Earlier this month — and also earlier in the day Monday — volunteers and hospital administrators delivered gifts to kids in the hospital, with donations allowing each child to get three to four new presents.
“The gifts don’t just go to pediatric patients,” UIHC spokeswoman Molly Rossiter said. “Often, children of our adult patients will get gifts too, if they are here, as well as siblings of our pediatric patients.”