The University of Dayton will transform into a holiday festival Friday during the 56th annual Christmas on Campus.
The annual event began in 1963 when Ellie Kurtz, the director of UD’s student union, organized a campus-wide event to celebrate Christmas before heading home for winter break.
“One night I was preoccupied with a sense of disappointment that students would be leaving for Christmas vacation and would not be able to celebrate Christmas with their friends and the UD family,” Kurtz once told an interviewer.
“I imagined what a wonderful Christmas we could have if we could celebrate Christmas before the students went home for the holidays.”
Students and the families of faculty and staff along with the Marianist brothers and priests from Bergamo took part in a candlelight procession that first year. After a round of songs the group gathered around a makeshift crib with a baby doll inside representing Jesus.
“It was a lot smaller that first year than it is now, but it was wonderful,” Kurtz said in 2002. “I have always been in love with Christmas.”
The event, which coincides with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, began to transform into a larger community celebration in the following years.
UD students were paired up with local children who arrived on campus by school bus and escorted them on an evening of holiday celebration.
Photographs from 1965 show a live nativity scene set up inside the Kennedy Union surrounded by evergreen trees.
Photos from events in the 1970s capture crowds singing Christmas carols and UD students dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus listening to whispered Christmas wishes.
Kurtz retired in 1994 a few years after her big-hearted idea went nationwide.
Christmas Off Campus began in St. Louis in 1990 by UD alumni Brian and Renai Lowry as a way to continue serving in the Marianist tradition. Today there are more than 30 chapters across the country.
Kurtz died in 2008, but her legacy continues.
Friday night, more than 1,000 Dayton school children will arrive on campus for the 56th annual Christmas on Campus. The event is believed to be one of the nation’s largest single-day, on campus community service events, according to the university.
Each child will “buddy up” with a UD undergraduate to meet Santa, sip hot chocolate and watch a Christmas tree light up on Humanities Plaza.
This year’s theme is All Aboard the Flyer Express. “We wanted to reflect the strong connection between the campus and the greater Dayton region, so our logo shows a train traveling between the chapel and the city,” said Dana Roscoe, a member fo the student planning committee. “We look forward to bringing together the entire Dayton community for this holiday tradition.”