Eduvation Blog

2021 Holiday Special

“Ten with Ken” Tradition

Over the years I’ve shared 5 extended Ten with Ken “holiday specials,” rounding up the best examples of higher ed social media each December. In 2015, we started with two 20-min episodes focused on Holiday Greeting Videos generally, and Holiday Music & Goodwill. The 2016 Holiday Special was a single 25-min episode, which introduced the idea of “best in class” awards. In 2017, 3 shorter episodes (totalling 50 min) divided vids intoGingerbread, Snow & Dancing Deans, Naughty or Nice Carpools & Carolling, and Seasonal Storytelling: Satire & Sentiment. The 2018 Holiday Special was a comparatively concise 13-min Holiday Video Countdown of the 10 best examples in rank order. The latest one, the 2019 Holiday Special, was probably my most polished so far, with 3 episodes: Midwinter Magic, Season’s Eatings, and Festive & Fuzzy. (You’ll find all 5 years’ worth of holiday specials in this playlist on the Eduvation YouTube channel, #ICYMI.)


COVID Christmases

The pandemic has made nonessential video production much more challenging, for PSEs and for me too. For 20 months now, my focus has been diverted from Ten with Ken to this newsletter, and so the 2020 Holiday Special was a blog rather than a video spectacle. (I have to confess, the video format allowed me to select only the best moments and share them far more effectively – although it took me an extra few weeks in production.) Last year, I shared the top 20 higher ed videos out of a field of 193 (based on my own subjective judgement of production quality and creativity), sorted into 8 thematic categories.


The 2021 Crop

Colleges and universities around the world are still releasing their holiday greeting videos, so inevitably the collection is a moving target. So far, I’ve assembled almost 250 videos on my 2021 Holiday Videos master playlist, although by the time you read this there may well be more. (I’ll continue adding to it over the weeks ahead, too.) In trying to hand-pick the most interesting, creative and high-quality examples (seldom all 3 at once), I’ve wound up with 50 examples in 8 categories this year. (You’ll find a separate 2021 Holiday Special playlist that contains only the videos highlighted here, in sequence.)


Themes of 2021

As always, December brought holiday greeting videos with plenty of stiff fireside (or outdoor) reflections from presidents, animated logos in artificial snow, multilingual “shout-out” holiday greetings, and inspiring concerts by student musicians. Thanks to the pandemic, many reflected on just how challenging a year 2021 has been. At a time when masks and distancing are required on set, campus mascots are naturally the perfect co-stars for presidents and chancellors, and holiday videos were even more likely to be set outdoors than ever – from drone shots of snow-covered campuses to tree-lighting ceremonies, hot chocolate and cookie giveaways, or group photos. The pandemic also seems to have sparked a revival of some passé holiday tropes, like carpool karaoke in open-air golf carts, and plenty of outdoor extension cord mishaps (à la Christmas Vacation). More than anything, though, I noticed a powerful emphasis on Kindness, Hope and Togetherness – either as something yearned for this year, or something achieved at long last and desperately needed after 20 months of pandemic.

Some of the best (and some of the worst) feature campus mascots, so let’s start there…


Masks & Mascots

Even pre-pandemic, PSE mascots have long been central characters in holiday greeting videos. (See my 2019 10K episode, “Festive & Fuzzy,” for plenty of examples.) This year, some of the best vids focused on school mascots…

U Stirling (Scotland) always produces a top-quality holiday greeting video, usually featuring their mascot, Stirling Squirrel. This year’s 3-min vid, set to the music of Flickering’s “Jingle with Me,” urges us to “be kind this Christmas.” Stirling Squirrel demonstrates little acts of kindness for students all over campus on Christmas Eve, from pumping up a bicycle tire or providing exact change for the bus, to picking up a dropped ball or dropped hat. It’s a slickly-produced, feel-good holiday message.  Stirling


uAlabama always produces heart-warming, slick holiday videos featuring their elephantine mascot, “Big Al.” In this year’s 2-min vid, Al scurries around to decorate the campus with all the grace and poise you might expect from an elephant. Naturally, as Al tries to resolve an extension cord issue, we get the requisite Christmas Vacation electrocution scene. (“Roll Tidings” is of course a play on the school cheer, “Roll Tide!”)  Alabama


York U mascot, Yeo the Lion, deploys CAD software and 3D printing to create a mysterious gift in a bright red box (like the York logo, naturally), which is handed from student to student across campus. Hockey players shoot it like a puck, dance students pirouette with it, others add a bow. Finally, the box is opened to reveal a big red light switch, which naturally illuminates a red and white YorkU logo on campus.  York


uConnecticut has produced some of my favourite holiday videos over the years, featuring their husky mascot Jonathan. This year’s 3-min video, “Decking the Husky Halls,” brings together students, athletes, coaches and others to decorate a country barn for the holidays, from chopping down a tree to stacking hay bales, adding a basketball “hoop” and hockey skates, Christmas lights and fake snow.  uConn


U La Verne (California) produced this 4-min holiday tale about mascots Leo and Lea, who compete with each other to raise money in order to buy each other a Christmas gift. It’s always tough for mascots to convey genuine emotion, but Leo’s efforts selling cocoa are pathetic – until he attends classes in chemistry and marketing. The whole cat-scratching tale seems inspired by O Henry, and could only be improved by editing it a bit shorter.  La Verne


Honourable mentions go to these mascots too:

Florida Gulf Coast U mascot Azul the Eagle soars through the clouds in this 2-min video, literally droppinggifts to staff and students across the campus – from stuffed animals to surfboards!  FGCU

Kennesaw State U (Georgia) has one of the more musically-talented mascots, Scrappy the Owl, who plays drum solos, piano, bass and all 7 instruments at once in a holiday mash-up (for the first minute of this vid).  Kennesaw

South & City College Birmingham (UK) produced a 2-min tale starring robotic mascot Simon, who wakes Christmas morning to find special gifts from academic programs like Beauty, Fashion, Music, Photography, Catering, Game Design, and more.  SCCB



Hope & Light

After 20 months in pandemic isolation, returning to the darkness of winter a second time sparks a yearning for the warmth and community that is often symbolized by firelight and candlelight this time of year. Some of the most poignant holiday videos this year have focused on that metaphor…


Azusa Pacific U (California) has produced some of the most heartwarming Christmas videos in recent years. This year’s 3-min vid, “Celebrating Hope,” is set to an uplifting vocal track (perhaps called “Hope Being Born in Me”). Students create ornaments and cards that celebrate both gratitude and hope, and decorate the APU campus before the tree-lighting ceremony. “We use hope as our springboard into the future.” (If you don’t mind the overtly Christian message, I think it’s an inspiring message about the connection between hope and gratitude, which we could all use right now.)  Azusa


uWaterloo president Vivek Goel’s 1-min “message of light and hope for the future” is deceptively simple, but well-produced, on-brand, and even emotionally inspiring. (Royal Roads U president Philip Steenkamp also released a thoughtful 2-min video about “Light in the Darkness” that’s worthy of note. In it, Steenkamp reflects on the symbolism of light in winter solstice celebrations of community at Diwali, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas.) Goel explains how researchers harness the power of light using telescopes and microscopes, and use it to nurture growth and create virtual realities. “Light illuminates the spaces where we study, work, and connect with each other… It symbolizes hope, and illuminates the path ahead.” (Here’s hoping we can see “the light at the end of the tunnel,” too!)  Waterloo


Trent U uses gorgeous cinematography and soaring music to build on the imagery of light in darkness in their 2-min holiday vid this year. It opens with the slogan, “Trent Shines,” as we see glowing lights in the windows of the Bata Library on a snowy evening. President Leo Groarke throws an oversized switch to illuminate holiday decorations across campus, indoors and out, brightening the spirits of staff and students as a gentle snow begins to fall. (Real snow, in this case.) The wordless video conveys an uplifting mood and the closing titles read, “may your holidays be merry and bright!”  Trent


Wilfrid Laurier U Brantford released a “magical” 1:30 min vid that plays with images of flickering cut-paper model houses and dazzling holiday greetings from senior executive officer Heidi Northwood, wishing “may your days be golden and bright” (echoing Laurier’s “stay golden” motto).  Laurier

Elon U (North Carolina) deserves honourable mention for their slick 30-sec video that showcases holiday lights across campus, paper lanterns and sparklers.  Elon



Comedy & Parody

There’s nothing quite so risky for a PSE marketing department as producing comedy. Some of the world’s best-known comedians are afraid to appear before campus audiences, claiming they are impossible to make laugh. (And they’re talking about the campus pub, not a meeting of Senate!) My April Fool’s Day collections demonstrate how those can sometimes turn out. Likewise, holiday parody videos are hit-or-miss: most fall flat, but a few hit it “out of the park.” Here are some of the better examples this year, for your entertainment…


NSCG Newcastle College (England) produced an ambitious 8-min parody of Home Alone, in which twin criminals (played brilliantly by assistant principals Gavin Barker and Kevin Wintle) threaten the twin campuses. NSCG staff and students work together to foil the crooks in ingenious and violent ways, from minefields of Lego bricks and shattered ornaments to two-fisted staple guns, swinging paint cans, games of murder ball, and electrocution. (The culinary arts kitchen looks particularly dangerous, but don’t underestimate the librarians!) It’s tough to imagine any academic administrators could be better sports as they get repeatedly clobbered! (“Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!”)  NSCG


uWaterloo Environment dean Jean Andrey has participated in many memorable videos over the years, and this year’s 4-min holiday greeting sets her review of the year’s accomplishments to the classic poetic style of Clement Moore’s “Visit from St Nicholas.” As she sits on a Zoom call in fuzzy slippers, Andrey talks to UW faculty (in rhyming couplets!) about their accomplishments in this “strangest of years,” faced with a “Grinch of a virus.” (It’s much stickier, and more fun, than most annual review videos! Kudos to writer/producer Dheana Ramsay, the Faculty’s senior alumni advancement officer.)  Waterloo Environment


U South Florida’s Muma College of Business has produced some ambitious holiday videos over the years (like this elaborate domino build in 2016), although production quality has certainly varied. This year, Dean Moez Limayem grapples with a holiday supply chain emergency in an over-the-top effort that feels like an homage to Mission:Impossible. Ultimately the solution to the supply chain is – you guessed it – a golf cart loaded with presents!  USF Muma


Honorable mentions in this category also go to a couple of dog-driven examples:

Landmark College (Vermont), where president Peter Eden coordinates 6 campus therapy dogs on a Zoom call – and several are watching cat videos, of course. This year, instead of holiday sweaters, the gang distributes facemasks with bright red noses and what appear to be little antlers.  Landmark

Meredith College (North Carolina) president Jo Allen returns with her dog Bachelor (who I awarded a lifetime achievement award back in 2019’s “Festive & Fuzzy”) for this year’s holiday vid, which is really a tour of the newly reopened lake on campus. This time, Bachelor’s sporting a ship captain’s cap and scarf, checking out ideal spots for napping.  Meredith




Group activities outdoors have been particularly important this year, and many holiday videos focus on collectively decorating the campus or engaging in charitable activities. Besides scores of tree-lighting ceremonies and drone shots of campus decorations, there were quite a few that stood out…


uVirginia conveys “warm wishes” for the holidays in this 2-min video, as president James Ryan helps a student (and is joined by even more) to paint over fraternity graffiti with purple and orange wishes, “Happy Holidays, Hoos!” It’s a polished, wordless depiction of community.  Virginia


Virginia Tech’s “Cheesy Nights warms Hearts and Bellies” is a well-paced 3-min vid that documents an annual event, when parents provide grilled cheese sandwiches, cookies, cocoa and more outside the campus library during finals week. The students rate the sandwiches high (you can’t beat “free”) and clearly feel energized by the treat. “It means a tiny bit of happiness in these hard times.”  VirginiaTech


U Utah president Taylor Randall and his wife Janet drive a holiday-decked golf cart across campus to share dozens of delicious-looking donuts with eager students. “Amid challenges and tragedy, we still have much to be grateful for.” (I particularly love the U-shaped donut as the closing logo.)  Utah


UNB wordlessly conveys an amusing story of students trying their best to enjoy seasonal activities without snow – making lawn angels, building a leaf snowman, skiing to nowhere. But when they put their minds to it, the students create a snowy landscape indoors, with paper snowflakes, a forest screensaver, and quite a bit of cotton batten. “Snow Place like UNB.” This 1-min vid nicely captures the way we all need to make do this holiday season, setting aside our disappointments to find joy in the little things.  UNB


King’s UC (at Western) produced a lovely 1-min Christmas video that combines clips of students decorating gingerbread houses and the campus tree, sharing gifts and hot chocolate, and gathering around a bonfire. King’s


Honourable mention to some other examples in this genre:

U North Carolina Greensboro’s “Toys for Joy” charity effort certainly deserves mention here, as a feel-good 1:30min video that nicely captures the efforts of students to donate 450+ toys.  UNCG

Tarleton State U (Texas) produced a lovely 1-min video that captures some of the warmth and fun of a group gathering to make holiday greeting cards (at what I presume is the president’s mansion). If it weren’t a pandemic, I wouldn’t find the complete lack of masks or distancing so disturbing with a group of 14 people indoors…  Tarleton

U Illinois System president Tim Killeen and his family contrast the holidays at home alone in 2020 vs gathered together in 2021 (which seems a bit overly optimistic) in this 2-min vid, “The Joy of Togetherness.” Of course, it’s the acting by his golden retriever Byron that makes the video memorable. (Not necessarily good, but memorable!)  UIS

Red Deer Polytechnic shared a 1:30min vid of students, faculty and staff decorating a campus tree with small notes about how they’re “making real impact, right here,” from “celebrating family” and “helping the less fortunate” to “giving my students down time.”  RDC



Talents & Trivia

Many colleges and universities worldwide release video of campus choir and concert performances this time of year, and many of them run HOURS long. You can find them on the 2021 master playlist, but here I want to share some of the most memorable or moving examples of holiday greeting vids focused on the “talents” of the campus community…


Vancouver Island U president Deborah Saucier hosted a holiday trivia game show for students, staff and faculty. Some questions had clear answers (like “How many days long is Kwanzaa?”) while others had no right answer (like “Love Actually or Elf?”). Jingling bells, fast-paced editing, good sports and bloopers make for a fun 4-min video. I think my fave line is when Deb responds to an answer, “me too, but we’d both be wrong,” although her “war on eggnog” continues too! (Deb clearly has a future as game show host if she wants it.)  VIU


Duke U (North Carolina) extended holiday wishes with a polished video and a moving outdoor performance of “Let it Snow” by acapella groups “Pitchforks” and “Out of the Blue.” (I’m sure the audio was recorded in studio, since there are no mics visible outdoors – but we do get a glimpse of lighting and snow machines at the end.)  Duke


uVictoria has a long history of superb holiday videos, and in this year’s 2-min “Holiday Gift of Song,” student JiaJia makes her way across campus spreading holiday cheer to a rendition of “Jingle Bells” by uVic’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble. As always it’s a polished, upbeat and cheerful vid – even if uVic students are carrying umbrellas instead of frolicking in actual snowuVic


Whitworth U (Washington) opens this 3-min Christmas music video with percussion from the clock tower, basketball and volleyball court, truck doors, pot lids, and other “found objects” around campus. Talented students play “Carol of the Bells” on actual musical instruments, too, in this high-quality video.  Whitworth


Michigan State U College of Music likewise brings together a brass quintet in a random lounge area to play “Sleigh Ride,” with audience participation in percussion, through everything from high-fives to closing laptop lids.  MSU Music



Acapella choirs singing outdoors (or on Zoom) were definitely a trend this year. Here are a couple more of the best-produced:


Fordham U’s (New York) “F Sharps” perform a lovely acapella version of “the Carol of the Bells” in this slick video.  Fordham


Nottingham Trent U’s (UK) Chamber Choir also performs a beautiful rendition of “Christmas Blessing” (apparently while all at home on Zoom) in this lovely 2-min vid.  NTU


Mohawk College shares wonderful musical holiday cards every year, featuring the talents of students and faculty, and this year was no exception.  Mohawk


James Madison U (Virginia) produced an elaborate 3-min video in which president Jonathan Alger and mascot Duke Dog tour the campus, snapping group selfies and spreading magical snow, while an acapella group sings “Winter Wonderland.” “JMU really is such a magical place!”  JMU


George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality & Culinary Arts presented a series of cooking and baking videos in its “12 Days of CHCA” that deserves mention here. CHCA’s chefs, bakers and hospitality experts provided daily recipes and tips “to help make the festive season bright… from traditional gingerbread cookies to wine selections and mocktail recipes.”  CHCA


And of course, every year we see at least one video in which off-key carolling becomes a source of fun and joy in itself…


Oral Roberts U (Oklahoma) might not be the place you would expect it, but their 2-min “Holiday Karaoke” video showcases singing so bad it’s good – students are clearly having fun as they sing along to hit Christmas songs, their headphones preventing them from hearing just how far off-key they are.  ORU


Several PSEs featured the musical talents of their presidents in their holiday videos this year:


Southern Connecticut State U president Joe Bertolino “decided to do things a bit differently for his yuletide greeting,” sharing some personal stories and playing “Flight of the Angels” on his accordion. (Not my idea of seasonal, but certainly unique!)  SCSU


George Brown College president Gervan Fearon “shares a little joy of his own” by playing “Frosty the Snowman” on his saxophone, in this brief fireside chat.  GBC


Camosun College deserves mention too, for president Sherri Bell’s “carpool karaoke” video, in which she carols across campus in an open-air golf cart, sporting antlers of course, lipsyncing to holiday classics with staff and students. (That fake snow is almost convincing, too.)  Camosun



Animated Greetings

Every year, hundreds of higher ed holiday greeting videos are really just short animated greeting cards, often featuring snowflakes and the institution’s logo, or a cartoon version of its campus. But there have also been some standout examples featuring really creative animation over the years (like Stirling’s skating squirrel, any number of animated shorts from Sheridan College, or Feridun Hamdullahpur’s appearance as an animated snowman last year). Here are a couple of examples from this year’s crop…


Grand Valley State U (Michigan) wishes its Lakers season’s greetings in a 2-min video that opens with a frustrated student who’s feeling humbug. After she enters GVSU’s carillon tower, though, she enters a cartoon wonderland where she skates past a narwhal and builds a snowman – before returning to reality and dispensing fresh-baked cookies. Like the Grinch, her heart grows 3 sizes and bursts the magnifying lens.  GVSU


Durham College president Don Lovisa found a new twist on the “animated president” genre, while also demonstrating the campus motion capture studio in this lavish 3-min video chock full of special effects. Lovisa as “Santa” materializes inside the campus “stargate” and then joins his reindeer to share best wishes for the holidays. (That Christmas suit and tie qualify as SFX all by themselves!)  Durham


Algonquin College produced a 1-min animated video this year that invokes winter hibernation, holiday celebrations, and the end of an immensely challenging year. A cartoon version of president Claude Brulé wishes us all “more opportunities to connect with each other” next year, and “renewed hope in all aspects of our lives.”  YouTube



Holiday ShoutOuts

A time-honoured approach to PSE holiday greeting videos features quick clips of students and staff in rapid succession, often over seasonal music, sharing favourite memories of home or multilingual season’s greetings. Here are some of this year’s best…


Dixie State U (Utah) opens this 2-min holiday shoutout to “Trailblazer Nation” with a series of quick introductions and greetings by students from all over the world (including, notably, Calgary AB). Bright colours, top-quality audio, energetic transitions and upbeat music make this a solid example of the genre!  Dixie


BCIT president Kathy Kinloch provides a 1-min intro to this touching and fun 3-min “shoutout video” featuring hundreds of students, staff and faculty (often simultaneously) talking about “what they are grateful for this year” (from friends and family and the COVID vaccine to “getting my drivers’ license!”) and “what they are looking forward to in 2022” (from F2F connections and travel to “summer!”). As so often, the video ends with a series of multilingual holiday greetings, too – all shot professionally and edited into a slick package!  BCIT


Glendon Campus of York U also deserves mention for their well-produced 3-min bilingual holiday video, featuring sound bites from a series of faculty members wishing their students and colleagues well. Their sincerity, energy and humour put a smile on my face.  Glendon




Clearly, a “top ten” list wouldn’t allow me to include all of the interesting higher ed holiday videos released this year. Even summarizing the 45 or so best means leaving out others that are still worthy of note, particularly for those considering their own productions in future…


Yule Logs

Every year, a few institutions produce rather lengthy, monotonous “yule log” videos to convert your TV into a fireplace for the holidays. (Sometimes these include holiday music, and sometimes not.) This year, Dalhousie U released a 30-min “Yule Log” video that opens with a slow pan of holiday cards on the mantel, before focusing on a roaring log fire over a series of instrumental carols played on piano and guitar. Athabasca U, on the other hand, shared a 30-min loop of a crackling wood stove in 4K on a laptop – “We thought it was fitting, for an online university, to share the warmth in a familiar setting.”


God Bless Us, Everyone!

When I originally compiled this list, all I had was a :16-sec teaser trailer for this year’s holiday effort from Taylor’s U (Malaysia). Now that I’ve seen the full 4-min “film,” I know it should really have appeared in one of my earliest categories, “Hope & Light.” It is one of the most oblique higher ed entries this year, but tells the touching story of a small boy who is clearly frustrated after another pandemic year. The opening lyrics speak to being “trapped in this place I call my home,” and Tim laments to his mother that “nothing changed from last year… I feel so small, like I’m useless.” His mom reminds him that although “it’s easy to look at the things you didn’t do, and lose hope,” we need to “remember all the things that you did do.” She turns his focus to his efforts to help others, even if at a distance. “You showed us that hope is always present.” Tim immediately starts to swell with pride – and physically grows too.  Taylor’s U






That concludes my 4-part round-up of the 50 best higher ed holiday greeting videos of 2021. Once again, if you missed some issues this week, the full Holiday Countdown is also online as a 2021 Holiday Special blog on the Eduvation website.

And if 50 vids aren’t enough for you, feel free to browse my 2021 Holiday Videos master playlist, which has at least 200 more that didn’t make the cut here.

Again, I hope you will accept this light-hearted review of higher ed holiday social media efforts as my annual gift to you, dear readers.

Best wishes to you and your loved ones for a peaceful, restorative holiday break, and here’s hoping that 2022 turns out to be a truly happy and prosperous new year!

Stay safe and be well, everybody!


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