Christmas at Kohl

The long-running Mercy Burlingame tradition helps fund scholarships to the historic all-girls Catholic high school
By Christina Gray

Make no mistake, Christmas at Kohl is not Christmas at Kohl’s.

Christmas at Kohl is a beloved annual holiday “boutique” that for more than 30 years has brought the school and local community together at Kohl Mansion, the stately English Tudor-style estate that is Mercy High School Burlingame.

The Sisters of Mercy purchased the 40-acre mansion and grounds in 1924 from the family of businessman George Frederick Kohl (no connection to Kohl’s department store). It served as the order’s convent until 1931, when the Sisters opened its first local Catholic high school, Mercy Burlingame. The school is one of a shrinking number of single-sex Catholic high schools.

“People come here year after year to do their Christmas shopping and see the mansion decorated for Christmas,” said Mary Lund, director of advancement for Mercy Burlingame.

The mansion’s wood-paneled halls are decked each year with boughs of holly and more that attracts hundreds of alumnae and their families, local pre-Christmas cheer seekers, and architecture and history buffs.

School administrative offices are located in the mansion, according to Lund, though classes are now held in an adjacent building. During the weekends or evenings, the imposing mansion building is a source of financial support for the school as a popular wedding event venue.

Christmas at Kohl “opens the Kohl Mansion doors to our neighbors and local community so all can enjoy the beauty of the Kohl Mansion during the holiday season,” said Head of School Natalie Cirigliano Brosnan, Class of 2002.

A shuttle from nearby Our Lady of Angels Parish in Burlingame helps guests who drive in from all parts of the archdiocese and beyond to browse the tables of more than 50 artisans. Holiday music, light refreshments and food, and a docent presentation of the mansion is included in the $15 admission ($10 for seniors and children).

Mercy students offer free gift wrapping (donations accepted).

At its heart, Christmas at Kohl is a fundraiser with a focused mission: to provide a Mercy education to other girls through scholarships. The event was conceived by the Mercy Alumnae Association in the early 1990s, said Caroline Bottoms, Class of 1977.

“My grandparents came from Ireland, and a Catholic education was what it was all about,” she said. Her working-class father was challenged to send his daughter to Mercy.

“It’s absolutely a privilege to help support other girls in getting a Mercy education,” she said.

Mercy Burlingame alumnae are grateful and generous with their alma mater, according to Cirigliano Brosnan, “paying the gift of a Mercy education forward, year after year” with Christmas at Kohl.

Last year, ticket sales and proceeds from vendor tables at Christmas at Kohl raised more than $10,000 for student scholarships.

In addition to offering a four-year scholarship each year to one incoming student whose mother is an alumna of Mercy Burlingame, the association also helps fund the general financial aid program, which provides assistance to families with documented financial need.

“As an alum, I know firsthand what a truly life-changing gift this is for a young woman,” said Cirigliano Brosnan.

Olivia Langridge, Class of 2023, received a scholarship funded by the proceeds from Christmas at Kohl. Her grandmother, mother, aunts and cousins all attended Mercy Burlingame.

“Just as I had hoped, Mercy Burlingame helped me to become the best version of myself, as a leader, athlete, scholar and a person of faith, to which I will be eternally grateful,” she said. 

Christina Gray is the lead writer for Catholic San Francisco.