Issue 29 • December 2019

Humans of The Tavern

Holiday Issue: Home for the Holidays

Interview by Erika Wilson and Hongru Chen

When I adopted my daughters from China, I made a promise to the Chinese adoption authority that I would raise my children within their culture. I honored that promise very seriously. I took classes in Chinese culture for over a decade through the Andover Chinese Culture Outreach at Phillips Academy. My first celebration with Brooks students was the Moon Festival in 2002 when Asian students came to me to let me know how my toddler should start celebrating that family-centered holiday. When I was the Student Activities Director, I started building in Lunar New Year Celebrations into the official Brooks activities calendar. Larger celebrations took root when we moved into the house we live in now; we finally had a kitchen of a size that can welcome students to cook. I love cooking and I love seeing students relax and do the things they would do if they were at home, because I would want my children taken care of during the holidays if they were 10,000 miles from home. I had a student tell me that he had celebrated the holidays at his old (boarding) school, but that it “was never in a real home,” and that stuck with me. Holidays are meant to be celebrated together, in a house, with whatever type of family you have created in your community. Holidays aren’t just important for the actual day of a celebration:  Anticipation and reflection play a big role in how we experience life. You never know how meaningful or stressful the holidays of any culture might be to folks. There might be joys and sorrows that are attached to holidays that are particular to just one family, in addition to cultural expectations. Even the strongest person can be hit unaware by the stresses of the holidays.

– Deanna Stuart, Brooks School

Being Jewish, I’ve never celebrated Christmas, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t get to feel some of the general cheeriness that comes around every December. Last year, when Hanukkah fell in December, a few other members of the Exeter Jewish Community and I would go to the church each night and light some candles, which was a really nice way to ‘pause’ the stress of school and have time to reflect. Of course, this time of year is often the most stressful time of the year for many reasons - major assignments and early decisions, etc - but I feel like people at Exeter do try to adopt some of the Christmas spirit no matter what religion they identify with in order to get through these tough weeks. Something I noticed this year, however, is that there are not nearly as many holiday decorations. I remember that there were a lot of Christmas decorations in common spaces around Exeter, which sparked some controversy, and they really scaled it back this year. Overall, I feel like everyone can agree, no matter their personal beliefs, that the holiday spirit definitely helps them get through each day.

– Caleb Richmond, Exeter

Interviewed by Rosemary McIlroy

Interviewer and Photographer: Christine Ling

"I don’t think that my family and I necessarily have a German Christmas tradition that we follow every year. The whole sequence of Christmas Eve, gifts under the tree, Christmas Day, visiting family, is very similar to what I grew up within Germany. One thing that we do now, though, since both my kids are not really believing in Santa (or in the German case: the Christ child) anymore, is to gift to each other under the tree on Christmas Eve and then, for the kids, find a mystery gift under the tree in the morning of Christmas Day. 

A tradition that I miss is to decorate your tree on Christmas Eve. As a young child, it was magical to leave with one parent in the afternoon to run some “important” errand and then coming home to see the tree transformed. As the magic wore off with time and I got older, it became more and more my job to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. Up to the point when I moved to the US, I used to get my own tree on Christmas Eve and do the decorating on that day as well. The US has a different approach with trees going up and being decorated basically right after Thanksgiving. I can see the appeal, but I do miss the special feeling and the atmosphere that decorating the tree just before Christmas created. Having the decorated tree for only a short time (December 24 to January 6) made that time, well, special.

We have an interesting mix of American and German traditions in my family, but since we are living in the US, we mostly follow the holidays here. One big exception may be the celebration of St. Nikolaus on December 6. My kids love to put their shoes out the night before and find some candy and snacks in them in the morning."

– Mr. Mertsch , St. Mark's

A holiday tradition that I’m really grateful for in my family, especially on my dad’s side, is playing a game called Left Right Center either on Christmas or Christmas Eve. Sometimes we’ll play with Hershey Kisses or other times we’ll actually play with money. In the game, you roll a die and it tells you to move your money or chocolate either to the left, right, or you put it in the middle, and it always gets really competitive. Since I was little, we've always played and it's become a really special thing that we do each year with all my aunts, uncles, and my cousins because I have a lot of them. There’s always a lot of yelling going on, so it gets very loud and chaotic, but everyone’s having a really good time and I feel like it brings me closer to all of them. Whoever wins always gets really excited, since they win all of the Hershey Kisses, or all the money, which is a lot of fun. Usually, if an adult wins it gets divided up among the kids, though. You always can figure out who’s playing for money and who’s playing just for fun.

– Grace Magee, Tabor

Interviewer: Lela Krein

Interview and photo by Chun-Wen Ko

I’m grateful for my mother. She’s always who I see when I get home; it’s just me and my mom, and so I’m grateful to always have her. I did grow up in kind of an ideal family situation, but my dad passed away a year and a half ago, so what was a three-person Thanksgiving and Christmas and all of our holidays is now two people, so that was definitely a shift. This year for Thanksgiving, we’ve decided to disrupt that quietness in our house and have a Friendsgiving: we’re going to have fifteen people over, it’s going to be this huge thing, we’re ordering so much food, and it’s kind of an open invitation for anyone who doesn’t have a Thanksgiving to go to. I think home is my family, because I don’t feel so connected to my house; I don’t spend a whole lot of time there now. I’ve lived in the same house for sixteen years now, so that’s the place I think of when I think of home, but if we were to move, I don’t think I would be without a home. With my mom I’m really home.


– Skylar Nieman, NMH

Coming to Milton four years ago was pretty shocking because I was away from my family, which defined who I was -- I had thought of my identity as family first, myself second -- and I had to learn how to function without them. I’ve had to think about what I’m interested in, what makes me happy, and what I define as good and bad rather than just using what I was brought up with. On campus, a lot of what I do is about making communities. [For example,] with Asian Society, I try to make sure everyone feels included and has a community they can rely on because a lot of Asian students [at Milton] are boarding students and don’t have access to their families. For me, homesickness is much easier to deal with now, but it’s always there. I’m really glad to be in Robbins [House] because the dorm’s a really strong and supportive community, and it’s definitely a home.

– Jeanna Shaw, Milton

Interview by Miriam Zuo


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