Boarding School Holiday Traditions

As we enjoy the holiday season, I think it might be fun to share a few holiday traditions. I must admit have a soft spot for the slowing season of reflection and service.

This list is by no means exhaustive or inclusive. If your school has some great holiday traditions send them along or leave us a comment.

Ridley College holds an annual Christmas Around the World Service with carols, hymns and readings in student’s first langauges- German, Russian, Spanish, Cantonese, French, Japanese, Mandarin and Italian in 2012.

Portsmouth Abbey School students and faculty operate the Clothe-A-Child program that began on campus in 1990 and has it’s origins in a newspaper article. That first year they purchased 35 outfits.

Twenty-two years later the program now includes school-wide participation and a competitive theme. Student houses raise money through creative fundraisers all year.

“This year the inventive boys of St. Martin’s sponsored a dunk tank and pie throwing, and they managed to convince Mr. Gittus, their head houseparent, to get into the frigid water of the dunk tank.” The house that raises the most money each year receives a plaque engraved with Isaiah 58:7, “Share your food with the hungry. Your house with the homeless. If someone lacks clothing, clothe them…” and the number of children supported that year.

At this moment, everyone has left the Abbey for their Christmas vacation destinations and Mrs. Weida and I have had a moment to sit and reflect on the highlights of this years’ hectic and rewarding Clothe-A-Child program. There was a great sense of accomplishment as well as enjoyment among the students. We could hear their laughter through the infirmary door as they attempted and succeeded, in convincing everyone on campus to empty their pockets for this good cause.

“We wish a very Merry Christmas to you and your families,” Pam Gorman, Portsmouth Abbey.

Portsmouth Abbey School Holiday Traditions

Vermont Academy students and faculty participate in the The Kurn Hattin Christmas, one of VA’s oldest and most cherished holiday traditions.

Only a few miles apart, Vermont Academy and the Kurn Hattin Home, in Westminster, VT, have a strong relationship. Founded in 1894, Kurn Hattin is a place where at-risk children are offered a safe home and quality education in a nurturing environment.

Every year in early December, the youngest students from Kurn Hattin come to the Vermont Academy campus for a formal dinner and party. Vermont Academy students volunteer to shop for presents ahead of the event, or to serve as big brothers or sisters to each of the Kurn Hattin students during the evening.

After dinner, Vermont Academy students dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus, along with their elves, enter the dining hall with presents for all of the Kurn Hattin kids. Everyone opens and plays with their gifts on the spot! It is a truly beautiful, heartwarming event for all.

Vermont Academy Kurn Hattin Christmas Party from Vermont Academy on Vimeo.

Wasatch Academy students present a holiday music program.

Trinity-Pawling School boys gave back to communities through the schools nearly two decade relationship with the Pawling Community Resource Center Adopt-A-Family program.

On November 11th, a group of Trinity-Pawling faculty members and students spent their Sunday helping those in the Rockaways, Queens, NY clean up after the disaster of Sandy. T-P joined forces with Team Rubicon, and traveled to a number of homes to aid in relief efforts.

On campus, T-P boys participated in the annual candlelight service. The service, held in All Saints’ Chapel, blends readings, music and familiar carols to tell the Christmas story, and includes the lighting of candles by each member of the community.

TP students giving back

  • jaimie scanlon

    Great post, Brian. It’s really interesting to see how different schools make the holidays special for students and how long-standing some of these traditions are! I work with Kurn Hattin Homes for Children (, which you mention above along with Vermont Academy. The holidays at Kurn Hattin are incredibly heartwarming. Many of the children there have experienced such hardship–much too much for such young lives–and have never known the joy of a ‘real Christmas’ until they come to Kurn Hattin. The staff and volunteers from local organizations go all out to make the whole holiday season about bringing joy to those kids — and they succeed! My favorite tradition is the Night of Giving, when the school holds a special candlelit dinner, and the students from each cottage present a ‘giving project’ which they themselves have voted on and chosen to carry out during the next year — this year the boys in one cottage took up a collection of their own belongings to donate to another child whose family’s home was destroyed in a fire, one of the girl’s cottages chose to raise fund for a military organization that supports children in need throughout the world… the list of wonderful projects goes on. I love this tradition because it engages students actively in the spirit of giving, and in particular, because they themselves have needed and received help from others, they have a chance to give back. There’s more on the Night of Giving and other Kurn Hattin holiday traditions on the Kurn Hattin blog at please subscribe!

    • B. Fisher


      Thanks for reading and filling out the story with more on the Night of Giving. I never cease to be amazed at the great, kind works that students contribute.

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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