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12-12_holiday_traditions2Students returning from Thanksgiving break find a campus decked out in twinkling lights and colorful decorations. The festive energy around School reminds students that winter break is near, and each house’s holiday traditions have students celebrating the season with their family away from home. As one Norris boy says, “It’s the best time of the year here!”

In the week before winter break, Hathaway House girls stage their important event: the holiday dinner—with fancy dress and linens—where their dining hall and facilities staff are honored guests. Each senior girl also invites one guest to the dinner, and these “guests” serve the hosts! After dinner, the guests perform a song, story, poem or another creative piece that honors the senior who invited them. In honor of Nan Lee, a former Hathaway house head, the Lee Award is given to “the girl who most expresses the generosity of spirit and the art of gentle persuasion to help create a caring community at Hathaway.” The night ends with homemade desserts and songs around the piano.

Wolcott House boys are not to be outdone. On the last evening before break the boys dress up and escort the girls of Hallowell, their sister dorm, to the holiday dinner. (The Hallowell girls, dressed in their finest, have begun with appetizers and mulled cider hosted by their house head.) The boys then return to the dorm to practice their caroling songs—with which all Milton’s boarding boys will serenade the girls’ houses one by one. After caroling, Wolcott boys gather in their common room to watch Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and enjoy a much-deserved feast.

In the first weekend of December, Robbins House girls hold their holiday decorating party; with paint and glitter they decorate ornaments shaped like snowflakes, Christmas trees, snowmen or Jewish stars. On the last night before winter vacation, they play Santa to their housemates, drawing names and delivering a thoughtful treat to their chosen “sister.” Given a few weeks to buy, make or gather small gifts, the girls leave clues to their identity in the days leading up to the big unveiling.

The boys of Norris House decorate the dorm with a lit up ”N” on top of the front porch. They recognize the oldest and youngest among them by bestowing the honor of topping the holiday tree with the star (in photo). Brotherhood is one of the Norris watchwords, and in this case, the senior “brother” gives his Class IV “brother” a boost. Each of the Norris boys also recognizes—in a poem “’Twas the Night Before…Break” written by faculty member Peter Parisi—a sentimental or humorous line or two commemorating his year so far.

The girls of Millet House pull out all the stops when it comes to holiday celebrating—decorating gingerbread houses, gifting their “Secret Santa”, and adorning the house with festive lights. A special and unique event is their annual “Cakes for Flakes” event. The girls cut and hang paper snowflakes from the common room ceiling, and the “family” installing the most snowflakes wins a cake. The individual cutting the most snowflakes is crowned the “Snowflake Queen,” complete with tiara and a cupcake of her very own. The “Princess Award,” in memory of Jennifer Pham, recognizes the girl who makes the most intricate and beautiful snowflake. The Millet girls also make or buy unusual and unattractive ornaments for the humorous Ugly Ornament Tree.

Holiday vespers is an optional event that celebrates the spiritual aspects of the Christmas holiday. While weekly Chapel services are non-denominational, Holiday Vespers is a Christian service, where students and faculty read lessons from the Christmas story; traditional Christmas carols are sung and a choir contributes varied musical offerings. Vespers takes place in Apthorp Chapel the Sunday prior to winter break and is followed by a reception—with cookies and cider—at the Head of School’s home. The evening is a happy celebration, and as one student said, “there’s such spirit in the air.”