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The Gift of Thanksgiving Traditions

It is fitting that the Deed of Trust creating Hershey Industrial School was signed by Mr. and Mrs. Hershey on November 15, 1909—during the season of harvest and thanksgiving. Giving, nurturing, and growing were important to the Hersheys; practically from the soil, but, more importantly, in human terms with the thousands of children who have benefited from attending Milton Hershey School.

Thanksgiving has been celebrated in a variety of ways at the school. In 1913, there was a program given by the school for the Hershey community.

An article in the Hershey Weekly urged the Hershey public to attend the program by saying that they “could hardly spend a more pleasing and novel hour than to dedicate it on Thanksgiving eve to these little charges of the founder at his noble benefaction.” The presentation featured recitations and songs by the students.

Milton Hershey School thanksgiving festivities

Left to right: Student home Washington cooking Thanksgiving dinner in 1973 and student home Limestone cooking Thanksgiving dinner in 2021.

In the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, a large dinner of roasted duck or turkey was served. In a 1934 report from farm home Springdale published in the school publication, we learn that “after giving their digestive systems some real labor by consuming seven ducks as a portion of a most delightful Thanksgiving dinner, the boys of Springdale await the Christmas feast.” Though the meal was appreciated, the highlight of the day for many was the annual football game between student farm homes.

students playing football on Thanksgiving

The editorial of the student-produced Spartan publication in 1960 shared a message that, “Today, we have so much more reason to be thankful…the many things provided by our school’s founders.”

Gathering around the table for Thanksgiving dinner is a timeless family tradition at MHS. In 2014, the entire student body and houseparents gathered for a Founders Feast at the Hershey Lodge. The purpose of the event was to recognize our founders, Milton and Catherine Hershey, and to celebrate, reflect, and express Thanksgiving collectively as an MHS community.

Milton Hershey School students participate in Founders Feast and Thanksgiving

Left to right: Student home Washington at their Thanksgiving dinner in 1972 and Transitional Living students at Founders Feast in 2021.

The atmosphere of thanks commences this year with the observance of Founders Week and continues throughout the Thanksgiving holiday and beyond. It was Milton Hershey’s wish that the students of his school family take their place in life and become useful, happy citizens—this is how Mr. Hershey wanted to be thanked.


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