Haut Cuisine and Formal Wears

Mountain Connection, January 9th, 2023

By: Jed Donnel

Traditions demonstrate the values of a culture. They are how we tell the story of ourselves. Shortly before the winter break, I had the pleasure of attending my first Holiday Dinner at the Upper School, a tradition that dates back 19 years. At its core, the celebration is a gift from the faculty to the students: we offer time to reflect on the academic year at the midpoint, to gather as a community in the spirit of a second family before heading out the door for reunions with first families, to enjoy an excellent meal and one another’s company. Accordingly, faculty became wait staff, setting up tables, filling water glasses with fresh raspberry accoutrement, organizing ourselves into small cohorts to take orders from Brian as he, with military precision, called food orders to the kitchen staff, whereupon we returned to the tables with hot plates filled with haute cuisine — sea scallops, steak, grilled vegetables – and seasonal sweetmeats. All were dressed to the nines (or eights, anyway) in Steamboat formal; I haven’t seen so many high schoolers donning ties, jackets, chic dresses and even heels since I was in boarding school myself. And, fittingly, the event afforded a pleasant nostalgia within an altogether delightful ambience. There were no phones, the conversation at each table was lively, we savored the amazing food with napkins in laps and candles lit around flowered centerpieces. Following the meal, we quieted to hear Samantha offer her prepared remarks on gratitude, listened attentively to Brick’s history of the occasion, and heard poetry and personal writing read by faculty and students alike. For my part, I recited Tennyson’s timeless “Ring Out, Wild Bells,” which I admire for its perspective on both past and future, and because it helps me to find grounding in the present, as I did that night. There was a full standing ovation made in heartfelt thank-you for the kitchen staff, and then Gilbo, Gina, Margi and Trenia led us all in the singing of various carols, accompanied by a small throng of students and Trenia’s own guitar. Per tradition, we adjourned outside to the front courtyard to close out the evening, filed through the icicle sculptures and lights set out by students that afternoon to line the walkway, and we listened to the seniors as they read the bell ceremony, rang out the old and rang in the new. The temperature could not have been above zero, though a general warmth permeated the gathering as we slid back inside amid steamy breathing and laughter. Faculty quickly took down the dining implements and returned the room to its normal state as the student center (we’re too big now to all fit in the dining hall), and then we mingled with each other as we happily left the place in the hands of the students. Away from our supervision, the prefects led the rest of their peers in further merriment and the solace of good company. On my drive home that night, I felt deeply content. SMS is a genuinely caring and appreciative community. In the poet’s words, we ring in the love of truth and right, we ring in the common love of good.

The Connection