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Arizona families celebrate Aflac Holiday Duck each year with neighborhood tradition

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(BPT) - Sales of popular plush provide support for pediatric cancer and blood disorders research and treatment

It was December 2005 and Julie Goodhue of Scottsdale, Arizona, was in the middle of an otherwise routine visit to the hair salon when something caught her eye. A gentleman sat down in the chair next to hers and handed his hairstylist a gift — a small, stuffed duck wearing a scarf and hat and sitting on a sled.

“I leaned right over and asked him where he got that cute thing,” Julie recalled. “No one has ever described me as shy,” she added with a chuckle.

“I’d never seen one before, but I knew I wanted one. Our kids weren’t even little anymore … they were already in college, for goodness sake … I just loved it so much.

“And that’s how our Aflac Holiday Duck tradition began.”

First introduced in 2001, the Aflac Holiday Duck — a plush, limited-edition collectible released each year by The Aflac Childhood Cancer Foundation, Inc. — helps raise funds that are distributed by the nonprofit to hospitals that provide pediatric cancer and blood disorders research and treatment throughout the U.S.

Seventeen years of Aflac Holiday Ducks later, Julie, 67, admitted she still gets excited to see each year’s new design. But what started out as a small family tradition has now grown to include gifting ducks to friends and neighbors. She will give out 16 this year — but first, the fanfare.

For the last 10 years or so, on the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, the nine families that make up “The Kings Avenue Gang” have gathered at the Goodhues’ home to kick off the holidays. They ceremoniously — with an “official big switch” — illuminate the display of lights that husband, Bob, has carefully placed along the house and yard. They enjoy piping hot chocolate “even when it’s been 80 degrees out.” And then … the “pièce de résistance.” The Big Reveal.

“It started after our first grandchild was born, the official unveiling of the newest Aflac Holiday Duck,” Julie said. Now, granddaughters Brynn, 10, and Claire, 8, help decorate the house with the assortment of Holiday Ducks they’ve collected over the years. An extra-large Aflac Duck, a gift from her brother, Jack, watches over the family room all year long and gets a sparkly headband or festive hat with each holiday. When everything is just so, Julie puts the holiday duck of honor in place and covers it with a cloth — she’s the only one allowed to see it before the big moment.

Then, without “feather” ado …

“We gather around and make a big fuss when the girls remove the cloth! Everyone seeing the latest Holiday Duck for the first time together … they love it!”

Natives of Mercer Island, Washington, Julie and Bob, both retired now, moved to the Phoenix area with their children, Robert and Laura, in 1990. University of Washington football fans and season ticket holders, they rarely miss the opportunity to see their Huskies play. There is one game, however, that Julie doesn’t mind missing.

She may be a huge fan of the Aflac Holiday Duck, but Ducks of the University of Oregon kind — the biggest rivals of her beloved Huskies — are a totally different story.

“I can’t even go to the Oregon-Huskies game because I’m afraid of how I’ll react, and so is my husband,” she admitted with another chuckle. “The ONLY ducks allowed in my house are my Aflac ducks. Period.”

“You may think I’m joking,” she added. “I’m not joking.”

What is it about the annual keepsake that she loves so much?

“They play such an important role in our Christmas,” she said. “And I love that donations go to help children with cancer and blood disorders. A fantastic cause.” It’s also one that means more than ever this year, as her best friend’s grandson passed away in July from a rare blood disease.

To date, net sales of Aflac Holiday Ducks have provided over $4 million to hospitals around the U.S. that treat pediatric hematology and oncology patients.

Julie said that probably the biggest reason she’s kept the tradition is because the Aflac Holiday Duck has brought the people in her life so much joy.

“In this day and age — all the time, but especially now, it seems — people need joy,” she said. “And I like being able to help spread some of it to my friends and family with these little ducks.”

The 2023 Aflac Holiday Duck wears a festive cap and scarf and holds a warm cup of cocoa with marshmallows in his wings. He is available in 6-inch ($12) size at AflacChildhoodCancer.org. Net proceeds of all sales go to The Aflac Childhood Cancer Foundation Inc. to help support pediatric cancer and blood disorders research and treatment at participating hospitals across the United States.