Both Milton and Catherine had very simple, meager childhoods, and Christmas for both was most likely celebrated with little fanfare. Yet, Milton Hershey recognized the holiday by giving each employee of the Lancaster Caramel Company a box of chocolates as a Christmas gift. While working on the milk chocolate formula and living in Lancaster, the Hersheys visited the Homestead at Christmas and brought trays of caramels and chocolates to those who lived and worked at the farm to make it a special day.
For the children at Milton Hershey School, Christmas has always been a special time throughout school history. Our alumni and local newspaper share some of the school’s fondest Christmas memories.
Holiday Program with Milton Hershey
In 1916, The Hershey Press newspaper reported on the students’ special program for the holiday that consisted of songs, speeches, playlets, rhymes, and recitations all with the Christmas spirit. Milton Hershey attended and was prevailed upon to make a speech. He told the boys about his own childhood in the very house where they lived and had classes and shared how he enjoyed playing on the farm.
Mr. Hershey told them, “that they might make their success in life by … observing the habits of honesty and industry and faithfulness which they were taught in their school life.”
He ended by wishing one and all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and they applauded him enthusiastically.
First Community Christmas Tree
In December 1914, the town of Hershey celebrated with the first community Christmas tree, decorated and placed in the center of town. The editor of The Hershey Press newspaper asked Milton Hershey for a Christmas message for the readers that year. He kindly replied, wishing the community the compliments of the season. He went on to talk about peace and prosperity in the country, and the positive things happening in the community.
The message ended with Milton Hershey saying, “I am a great believer in cooperation. The idea that Christmas emphasizes is cooperation—all working for one another and trying to increase the general sum of human happiness…It is the spirit and not the size that makes a community great—and I am glad that Hershey is full of the spirit of Christmas.”
Today, the town of Hershey continues to host holiday celebrations and tree-lighting ceremonies each year. MHS visual and performing arts students are often invited to perform holiday songs for the community.
For a Class of 1938 alumnus, the annual Christmas party was the highlight of the season. Decorations went up a month before with red and green paper chains and candles in the windows. Students enjoyed setting up the platform with miniature houses, barnyard, trees, and artificial snow where the Lionel electric train made its way around the track. The housefather, dressed as Santa Claus, arrived in a horse-drawn sleigh with a bag of presents for each boy at farmhome Silver Brook.
Hershey Theatre Christmas Pageant
The elaborate Christmas pageant, presented at Hershey Theatre with students portraying The Christmas Story, holds a special place in alumni memories. For a Class of 1944 graduate, playing the role of a shepherd stands out. After Christmas dinner, each student received a box of Hotel Hershey Sweets—a gift from Milton Hershey.
Student Home Celebrations
In one student home for the holiday, carols were sung, poems recited, instruments played, and then the students scrambled to open presents. The school made sure each boy had a gift, even if there were none from home. After the excitement of new toys, games, footballs, baseballs, sleds, and candy, the boys heard the Christmas story and learned the reason for the holiday—good tidings of joy and peace.
From the Vault Blog Series
The Milton Hershey School archives are full of fascinating pieces of school history—from memorials that honor the people who shaped MHS to musical instruments from 1915 that helped bring the school’s Visual and Performing Arts program to life. Follow along with our historical “From the Vault” series to view interesting artifacts and gifts that make up Milton Hershey School history.