Special events, service projects, religious undertakings and art projects take place in Catholic schools each year. Here is a sampling.

School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales, Bennington

At 56 schools throughout the United States, students created one-of-a-kind ornaments for the 2019 National Christmas Tree display on the Ellipse in President’s Park in Washington, D.C.

Among them were students from The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington, representing Vermont.

These handcrafted ornaments will adorn 56 smaller trees that surround the National Christmas Tree. The 56 trees represent each U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia as part of The America Celebrates display.

From state flowers to notable landmarks, students created ornaments that celebrate their state, district or territory.

Isabella Casalinova, an eighth grader at the Bennington Catholic school, was thrilled when she learned art from her school was heading to the nation’s capital. “Our artwork that we worked so hard on is going to be displayed for the world to see!” she enthused.

Through a partnership with the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Education worked with state art and education agencies to identify elementary, middle and high schools whose students would create the ornaments for the America Celebrates display.

More than 1,500 students participated in this year’s project, which is funded by the National Park Foundation.

“As a school community, we couldn’t be prouder. Chosen as the only school in Vermont to represent this beautiful state is such an honor,” said Principal David Estes. “The students did an amazing job. Their ornaments are beautiful.”

The America Celebrates display is one of the highlights of the National Christmas Tree experience, which will begin on Dec. 5 with the 97th Annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

St. Francis Xavier School, Winooski

St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski prepares for the celebration of Christmas throughout Advent.

Two traditional events for St. Francis students are the school-wide Christmas Pageant and the food drive to benefit the local community food shelf.

The Christmas Pageant is the retelling of the story of the birth of Jesus accompanied by songs of the season. All students participate, with older students pairing up with their younger “buddies” on stage. In recent years, the pageant performance has been moved to the gymnasium of Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington to accommodate the increasing size of the audience.

St. Francis Xavier School also conducts a food drive during Advent under the direction of the fifth- and first-grade classes. Each grade is assigned a certain category of food to collect, and in the week before Christmas, a truckload of food is delivered to the local food shelf as a Christmas gift from the students of St. Francis Xavier.

Mount St Joseph Academy, Rutland

Mount St. Joseph Academy will mark 51 years of Project Help by creating Christmas baskets for more than 100 families in the Rutland Region who are in need of a little help this Christmas season.

Mount St. Joseph Academy students, faculty, alumni and friends of the school will begin Project Help on Dec. 19 by collecting food, monetary and in-kind donations from area residents and businesses. On Dec. 20, students will make and deliver baskets to local families.

Christ the King School, Rutland

Every year, students in grades two through five from Christ the King School in Rutland visit two local eldercare homes to sing Christmas carols. The students prepare during the months leading up to Christmas, learning Christmas carols both familiar and new. Following the school Christmas concert, they take their show on the road and visit the Loretto Home and St. Joseph/Kervick Home, both in Rutland, where they sing, deliver Christmas cards and wish the residents a Merry Christmas. It has become a tradition of spreading cheer and giving the simple gift of time.

Christ the King School, Burlington

Christ the King School in Burlington participates in the Box of Joy program, a Catholic Christmas gift program to help impoverished children in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Classes pack boxes filled with toys, notes of prayer and other gifts. For many children receiving these boxes, this will be their only gift.

More information can be found at CrossCatholic.org/BoxOfJoy.

Every year Christ the King School seventh-grade students present a “Nativity tableau;” narrators read the story of the Lord’s birth and students play the parts. “Tableau” is the theatrical technique in which actors freeze in poses that create a picture of one important moment in the play.”  The presentation closes with reflection and song.

Other traditions include kindergarten and first graders caroling at Our Lady of Providence Residence in Winooski. Second graders help decorate the rectory Christmas tree for Msgr. John McDermott, pastor.

St. Michael School, Brattleboro

Two highlights from last year were the Christmas concert and a surprise visit from St. Nicholas.

At the Christmas concert, under the direction of Music Director Breton Abbondanzio, students sang a collection of familiar and beloved Christmas songs, paired with Scripture readings in between to provide a narrative of the birth of Christ.

Students also experienced the joy and wonder of a visit from St. Nicholas during a school gathering. He spoke of the true reason for the celebration of Christmas, and in the tradition of St. Nicholas, he tossed gold-wrapped chocolate coins for the children. Afterwards, he visited each of the classrooms and passed out goody bags filled with Christmas cookies and peppermints. He made sure to stop by the school chapel before his departure and spend a moment in adoration.

This year, as in years past, students at St. Michael’s will partner with Project Feed the Thousands and Summit Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram to collect non-perishable food and monetary donations to give to those in need in the community. Students will compete by classrooms to bring in the most food, and all donations will be piled into a brand new Jeep to be driven to the donation site on Dec. 20.

—Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.