Christmas on Campus at the University of Dayton
By Deon Jefferson
Before there was COC, there was a holiday event on campus called Operation Joy in 1962. Operation Joy started as an event where 60 children ranging from ages 4 to 12 would come to UD to celebrate Christmas with the senior class serving as hosts.
In 1963, Eleanor “Ellie” Ann Kurtz, a University of Dayton employee, started the very first Christmas on Campus. Kurtz spearheaded the event every year up until her untimely death in January 2009. Her hard work and resilience was a testament to how much she enjoyed the holiday season and smiling faces, she only missed the event twice mainly because of her health.
Originally, the event was used as a celebration for UD faculty and students to enjoy the Feast of Immaculate Conception, in addition to observing the holiday season before everyone left the campus before Christmas break. Eventually, UD decided to invite the greater Dayton community and local families to join in on the festivities. As COC got larger, UD students came to the realization some children in the community may not be able to fully be engulfed in the spirit of Christmas, so they started an adopt-a-child program where current UD students are paired with students from Dayton City Schools for the night.
“It’s very heartwarming to see the way the kids react to this event,” said Deanna Tomaselli, a UD student and a member of the Public Relations Committee. “I remember my freshman year when I met this little girl, she was excited because I got her Christmas Yahtzee, and she asked me, ‘How did you know I wanted this?’ I told her I had connections with Santa. It was so inspirational to know she appreciated something I got for her.”
This year, Christmas on Campus has grown in size – over 1,300 first and second graders will come to campus to be adopted, which is a record-breaking number for the event’s history. Over 75 percent of the campus sparkles with holiday cheer during COC, whether it’s by giving a campus tour, greeting guests and the families, decorating a house and a residence hall or by simply donating a cookie, which anyone is allowed to do.
“We are happy to be entering our 50th anniversary,” said Tomaselli. “We want to make this the biggest Christmas on Campus event ever. There are no classes on that day. We use that time to get ready for the event. The whole campus knows about it and so does the city of Dayton.”
The university’s faculty, staff members and students all participated in some way to make this event magical for everybody who attends. There will also be a hat and mittens drive for the children. The hat and mittens drive is all donations and the boxes are placed in each residence hall, and some places on campus as well.
One of the most special parts of the evening is the opening ceremony that starts at 5:30 p.m. in the Humanities Plaza. During the opening ceremony, visitors get to witness the lighting of the tree, which illuminates the entire campus and adds to the anticipation for the rest of the evening’s events. There will also be a Nativity scene during the opening ceremony, and for the first time ever it will feature real animals like camels, donkeys and, of course, sheep. Just when you think the opening ceremony is over, here comes Jolly Old Saint Nicholas and Mrs. Claus with their reindeer. From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Ellie Carnival will take place in the Rec Plex with special appearances from Buzz Lightyear and Woody from “Toy Story,” Nemo and Mr. Incredible. Refreshments will also be served from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Humanities Plaza. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Christmas on Campus there will be a candlelight vigil walk that will start at the UD chapel – a university tradition which returns after being discontinued in recent years. The vigil will be led by Father Fitz who is the rector on campus. Father Fitz will lead the procession to the Church of Holy Angels which is conveniently located in the heart of campus.
“There is nothing negative about this event, it means everything to us that for one night we can make a difference in someone’s life,” mentioned Tomaselli. “Christmas on Campus is a huge deal to the kids; sometimes this event is the only Christmas people know of, so we take pride in making people happy.”
The celebration of Christmas on Campus brings people from all walks of life together to get a jumpstart on the holiday season. Christmas on Campus teaches us the very valuable lesson that it is better to give than to receive. Even though COC is for one evening, it will leave you with a joyous spirit that will last a lifetime, or at least until next year’s gathering. So come on out to see hundreds of smiling faces, lots of good tidings of joy, fun activities for the entire family and moments that will take your breath away.
The University of Dayton presents the 50th Anniversary of Christmas on Campus on Friday, Dec. 6 from 5-9 p.m. Bus drop off will be at 5 p.m., followed by the opening ceremony. This event is free and open to the general public for more information visit their website at udayton.edu/students/coc/
Reach DCP freelance writer Deon Jefferson at DeonJefferson@DaytonCityPaper.com.