Comfort and Joy: Delighting in the return of holiday traditions
December 2, 2021
Dear Saint Mary’s Friends,
I love a good tradition. In our family, holiday traditions start at Thanksgiving and continue into the New Year. When our daughters come home, they hang out and talk in the kitchen the day before Thanksgiving while I make a preposterous number of pies. Thanksgiving morning, we gather together in the kitchen, preparing the savory food while singing all kinds of music at the top of our lungs—always starting with the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar. The pre-meal blessings are many, but they must include my husband Tom reading his poem “Thanksgiving” (which engages with our custom of searching out Prince Edward Island potatoes for the dinner table) and my cueing up the recording of Irish tenor Josef Locke’s “Count Your Blessings.” A postprandial walk is required before the sampling of desserts. As we eat leftover pumpkin and apple pie for breakfast the next morning, our daughters talk about when Hanukkah starts for our Jewish friends, remind us that shoes should be put out the staircase on the Feast of Saint Nicholas, and insist that we are not allowed to decorate the Christmas tree until they are all back for Christmas—sometimes that is as late as December 23! We have a lot of holiday traditions that must be maintained.
Last year, as was the case for so many families, Covid kept us apart for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. And last year Saint Mary’s College also had to forgo or adapt many of its traditional rhythms, rituals, and traditions—both long-standing ones and more recent additions. I am savoring—for the first time!—both the ordinary and the extraordinary pleasures of late fall and early winter activities on campus.
To start with, we all actually returned from Thanksgiving break! Last year, as you may remember, we started the Fall semester early in August, completed coursework and finals without a break, and ended the semester at Thanksgiving. Talk about settling down for a long winter’s nap: students didn’t come back for the Spring semester until February 1! This year, we restored the regular Fall and Spring schedules, and although Covid cases rose slightly this week when classes resumed after Thanksgiving, we are anticipating a fairly smooth end to the semester and a more traditional finals week. I love looking at my calendar and seeing that the Fall sports teams completed their seasons and that our one Winter sport—basketball—is in full swing.
And it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Nothing makes me feel cozier than seeing the fireplace blazing in the Great Hall in Le Mans when I walk into the building on a cold day. The sheer size of the room and the hearth make me feel like I’m in a medieval castle—but I am grateful there is modern heat in the building and not just what emanates from the fireplace! Over the next week, holiday decorations are going up across campus. Last year, because students were gone and most of us were working remotely in December, we had just a few wreaths on buildings. This year, we will deck the halls!
Some of our musical traditions will return in person this season, including (this weekend!) the Department of Music’s production of Christmas Madrigal Dinners. This is the 49th year of fanfare, song, and dance accompanying a traditional prime rib dinner with all the trimmings. The music department will also partner with Campus Ministry to offer a beautiful ecumenical service of music, scripture, and candlelight called “Lessons and Carols.” The Sisters of the Holy Cross have a long legacy with Lessons and Carols, and the service will take place in the Church of Our Lady of Loretto on December 12. The Church will also be the site for the 29th annual “Christmas at Loretto” concert, featuring the South Bend Chamber Singers, on December 19. I cannot think of a better way to invite the spirit of Christmas than through music and sacred text, and I look forward to seeing students, faculty, staff, and the Sisters of the Holy Cross as both participants and attendees at many of these events.
Indeed, these special seasonal gatherings allow those of us here at Saint Mary’s to dwell in the spirit, to find respite from the busy tempo of our lives. As we journey through Advent, waiting with patience for the birth of Christ, I hope you take delight in your own family and community traditions and that they bring you the comfort and joy of the Christmas season.
Katie Conboy, Ph.D.