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Marshmallows and (Much) More

Posted By Katie Portman '10, Friday, December 2, 2016

At The Avery Coonley School, traditions reign supreme. Every year – practically every month – these events pop up as tangible manifestations of the never-ending quest to make learning fun. And they work—many of my fondest memories as a student are of projects and programs that have been around longer than I have. From Fall Fest to Shakespeare Fest, each tradition is insightful and educational. Native American Fair made indigenous cultures cool; Science Fair transformed middle schoolers into mad scientists; Book Fair encouraged the obsessive reading habits of my peers. Even Spring Fair prompted lessons of teamwork and patience as we stomped and galloped in unison around the Reflection Pool, year after year.

But every winter, as carols are sung and halls are decked, ACS prepares for a tradition that seemingly serves no educational purpose whatsoever: Holiday House. There’s no discussion of diversity, no production of Greek plays, no syrup manufacture. Instead, kids are actually taken away from class to go shopping. Hours are spent tromping on that weird blue stuff that covers the gym floor; time wasted throwing money at toys, trinkets, and treats of all varieties. Charlie Brown would surely disapprove of such blatant materialization of the holiday spirit.

From this perspective, Holiday House is nothing short of anti-mission. So why has it stuck around? As I sat down to write this piece, it occurred to me that I only remember a handful of purchases I ever made at a full decade of Holiday Houses. Chief among these is a marshmallow shooter for my grandpa. The toy itself was unremarkable – nothing more than a couple of pieces of PVC piping glued together and painted in 15 seconds or less. But my grandpa loved the thing. He made us dig out three-year-old mini marshmallows and spent the rest of the day terrorizing us with sneak attacks. Every year after that, I couldn’t wait to see what goofy gift I could get for grandpa at Holiday House. I learned how fun it was to give presents as well as get them. I actually got excited about finding the perfect presents for my family and friends. I may not have found the “true meaning” of the holidays, but my understanding of gift-giving broadened – and I had fun in the process.

Like all good ACS traditions, this annual shopapalooza goes in the memory bank and helps to fuel the collective conscious. My classmates and I bonded over the seemingly endless rows of items, sniffing Smencils and laughing at marionettes. In true seahorse spirit, we systematically worked together to tick names off of our shopping lists. Holiday House may not have educated me on world history or the inner workings of theatre, but it taught me the values of generosity and community, bringing us all a little closer and demonstrating that it really is better to give than to receive.

Find those marshmallows…and Happy Holidays!

~ Katie Portman, ACS Class of 2010

Tags:  community  Holiday House  Traditions 

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