Out of the Zoo: Traditions

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes about a Messiah University history department tradition.—JF

Some of my fondest college memories are from Christmas caroling with Messiah University’s history club. We history majors gather on a cold December night, pile into cars with packets of Christmas carols in hand, and weave our way through the greater-Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania area on our way to visit each of our professor’s houses. After singing a few tunes on their doorstep, they invite us in and serve an array of hot drinks, baked goods, and sweets. We chat about our semesters, meet our professor’s spouses, and pet their dogs. They ask whose houses we’ve been to already, and where we’re going next. It’s a beloved tradition, cherished by many, and I hope it continues for a long time.

For a few different reasons, the history club’s Christmas caroling tradition had to take a pause this year. Due to Messiah’s altered schedule this year we won’t be on campus between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I suppose we could have sung “Silent Night” on our professors doorsteps in mid-November, but it wouldn’t have been the same. On top of this, COVID restrictions–which advise against singing in groups and gathering in each other’s houses–added a few more obstacles. We didn’t want to nix our tradition altogether, so we had to be creative. Instead of Christmas caroling, we planned our own little Thanksgiving parade. My friend Chloe, the current president of the history club, planned the event and advertised it as “Thanks-giving back to the professors.” 

Our little caravan wasn’t much when compared to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. We didn’t have giant balloons or fancy costumes or marching bands, and we had to keep our numbers small and spread out to maintain social distance. But we did have home-made gifts, colorful signs, determined spirits, and grateful hearts.

Like any other year, we wove through Mechanicsburg and stopped at each professor’s house. At each stop we got out of our cars, held up our signs at the end of our professor’s driveways, and cheered. Some professors waved and thanked us from their windows, while others came outside to chat from six feet away. A few of them requested we sing a Thanksgiving song, and when we couldn’t think of one we laughed and promised that our Christmas caroling would be extra special next year. Some professors still served us sweets, this time prepacked and individually wrapped. I joked that the coffee mugs we dropped off (signed by several history majors) would be worth a lot of money if one of us becomes famous someday. For those few minutes, things almost felt normal again. Even in the midst of all the craziness and change around us, we still found a way to show our professors that we care.

With COVID cases on the rise, schools shutting down and the holidays rapidly approaching, the traditions we love will undoubtedly look a little different this year. History club Christmas caroling may have been the first holiday tradition I’ve had to change, but it certainly won’t be the last. In the next few months my family will have to make tough decisions about gathering with our loved ones. I haven’t seen my grandmother since the summer, but visiting her in the middle of COVID’s second wave could pose a significant risk to her health. As much as I long to go back to church and see all the friends I’ve missed for months, my family might have to have our own candlelight Christmas Eve service at home. We usually head to the cinema to see a movie every Christmas day, but I suppose this year we’ll cook our own popcorn, dim the lights, and pretend our television is about fifty times larger than it is. 

There’s no doubt that a lot of our holiday traditions might have to change this year. But at the same time, a lot will stay the same. COVID-19 may change our family gatherings and our New Year’s Eve parties, but it will never change how much we care about the people we love. It may modify our Thanksgiving dinner, but it will never take away our ability to be grateful for the blessings that we still have. It may alter our church services, but it will never separate us from the love of Christ, Emmanuel, whose birth we celebrate during this season. We can still celebrate him, give thanks and shine his light to our loved ones who are struggling. Our traditions may change, but our love doesn’t have to–we might just have to be a little more creative.