Tradition is a source of joy, comfort and connection for most of us. Milton’s boarding students may miss their families’ own special events until they return home for break, but they join with their family away from home in traditions that thrive at Milton.
On Academy Road, a giant “W” in white lights singles out Wolcott House. Paper snowflakes dot the windows of the Schwarz Student Center, and more than one faculty member sports a Santa hat. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Robbins House girls hold their holiday decorating party; with paint and glitter they decorate wooden and glass ornaments shaped like snowflakes, Christmas trees, snowmen or Jewish stars. “We get paint on each other, we dance around and sing really loudly to terrible Christmas music—it’s such a fun time,” Olivia Woollam (I) says. “What’s neat is that a lot of girls in the dorm are Jewish, one girl is Muslim, a few are atheists, and nearly all celebrate Christmas in some way. Regardless of what we believe individually, we share in the cultural celebrations. The spirit sort of permeates across religious boundaries.”
In Norris House, every boy is a Secret Santa for a dorm mate or Norris faculty member, leaving riddles or hints for a scavenger hunt in the stockings. Zach Pierce (I), Norris house monitor, says that the boys also get excited about dorm caroling: “We have been practicing [for weeks] and it is a great way to bond.” The boys of Forbes House are not to be outdone: holiday lights draw an “F” against the bricks over their front door. Music, eggnog, hot cider, cookies and holiday candies make their party festive, where they too add singular touches to ornaments for the tree and stockings to hang.
On the Tuesday before break, Hathaway House girls stage their important holiday event: the holiday dinner—with fancy dress and linens—where their dining hall and facilities staff are honored guests. The Class I girls invite Class I boys to serve as wait staff and also to perform as the evening’s entertainment.
Holiday vespers is an optional, popular and more solemn event that celebrates the spiritual aspects of the Christmas holiday. “The chaplain lives in [Robbins House], so we have a special pride for Chapel services,” Olivia says. While weekly Chapel services are non-denominational, “Holiday vespers is a Christian service,” Olivia explains. “I was involved last year and many girls from my dorm participate. It’s where we take turns reading lessons from the Christmas story.” Vespers takes place in the Chapel right before the big holiday dinner.
On December 12 the full boarding community comes together for the annual holiday dinner, which as Olivia says, “is the only time during the year that all of us gather together for dinner. It’s such a celebration, because it’s the night before we leave for break, everyone is done with their work, and everyone is in a good mood—there’s such spirit in the air.”
After the holiday feast, members of each house return to their common rooms to find out which Secret Santas have been matched with whom: Opening their gifts, students try to guess who has been leaving them small treats and clues for the last week. “Often your Secret Santa is someone that you don’t know quite as well,” Olivia says, “so it’s a great opportunity to find out more about a person—what she does, what she likes—and to make the gifts something personal. One of the best parts of that night is that each of the boys’ dorms comes around caroling at all of the girls’ dorms. Someone yells from the front door, ‘The boys are here!’ and we all come running down the stairs into the freezing cold to watch.”
Cold New England weather is no deterrent for these students; they keep toes and spirits warm celebrating with friends in a community that relishes great holiday fun.