For most people, the holidays invoke warm feelings of gathering around a table for a special meal, exchanging gifts, and spending time with loved ones. But for many of the boys and girls at Boys Town, they haven’t had those same opportunities prior to living there. That’s why Boys Town creates an annual holiday season filled with special traditions—both as a community and in its family homes—so that its youth experience all the holidays have to offer.
Boys Town Christmas is held each year a few weeks before December 25th so that students who travel home for the holiday can participate. Some of the activities include a Christmas play enacted by a student cast, a Christmas concert by a local singer, a tree lighting ceremony, and even a visit from Santa who arrives on a Boys Town fire truck.
During the pandemic, Boys Town also set up drive-thru stations throughout the Village. Residents from each of its 50+ family homes loaded into vans and stopped at each station, which included carolers, live reindeer, cookie decorating kits, a gift station (last year a local toy store donated stuffed animals), and take-out dinner complete with popcorn. The Village also holds an annual Hanukkah parade complete with menorahs that decorate campus throughout the season.
In addition to the community activities, each family home creates its own holiday traditions. Aaron and Kendal Robertson, who are currently the Boys Town Protestant Pastors, were family teachers for six years. Together with their two children, the Robertsons cared for and mentored eight teenage boys, many of whom came from homes with no family traditions. “It’s very humbling to know you’re taking a child into your care and a serious responsibility,” Kendal said. “We’re not there to replace the parents—they don’t need another mom or dad—it’s working alongside a parent who is desperate to help their child.”
Incorporating personal traditions into the family homes is encouraged at Boys Town, and the Robertsons always took the opportunity to celebrate in a big way. Kendal always cooked taco salad on Christmas Eve—a tradition started by her own mother growing up—and even now her former kids will send photos of their families eating taco salad on Christmas Eve.
They would also play games while eating snacks and attend church. On Christmas morning, every boy received a stocking full of traditional stuffers like socks and underwear, as well as gifts—shopping for eight teenage boys was a big undertaking. One year, a boy in the Robertsons’ family home asked Boys Town to help him buy gifts for the Robertsons’ own kids—pajamas—which they wore every night. For the Robertsons, a child’s faith—or lack thereof—never mattered. “We had kids who didn’t believe, but we still celebrated because it was all about being part of the family,” Aaron explained. “Kids tell us all the time they’ve found their faith at Boys Town, whatever that may look like for them.”
Now in their roles as pastors, the Robertsons and their children, Judah age 10, and Caroline age 8, are able to work with hundreds of kids and serve as a role model for a family unit. Their ministry includes additional holiday traditions, such as teaching about Advent in the church during the holiday season and leading Operation Christmas, which recognized the many employees who work at the Boys Town Post Office in the Village. “We started it as family teachers and it became a tradition, so now we continue to thank them with donuts and coffee,” Aaron said. “It’s a way to teach the kids that their mail and packages arrive on time thanks to the efforts of all those workers.”
A new tradition that Boys Town hopes to implement is working with local businesses that will host a family home for the holidays. Through a sponsorship, a business owner would be able to enjoy a holiday meal in a Boys Town family home and experience the “magic” that happens at Boys Town during the holiday season.
Through all of its activities, both within the community and its family homes, Boys Town’s one goal is to let kids experience what it’s like to be a kid during the holidays. “They don’t have to worry about whether or not they get a meal or have to work or take on other sacrifices,” Aaron said. “They just get to be a teen who enjoys Christmas.”