by Matt Levin
In our classroom last year, we took notice of the approach of Hannukah, D’wali, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and Solstice, all holidays of lights in the darkness. For twenty years, our school’s had an enrichment of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and even when, back then, we sang mostly Christmas and Hannukah songs we strove for a balance, with “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells,” the secular songs. We all met as a school, students, parents and friends and teachers in one extended classroom. We sat on the floor around a big centerpiece of pine boughs. Everyone sang along, families sat together, a school of about sixty children then.
And even then, and ever since, we’ve held celebrations of the shortest day and the longest night of the year – Solstice Celebrations.
This year, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., the last night of school before the holidays’ break, we’ll all gather, staff, children and families, at a place outside of school. The past couple of years we’ve been able to get a ballroom in an arts center, where we set up risers, and decorate with pine boughs, (electric) candles, and strings of little white ‘tree-lights,’ and set up a couple hundred folding chairs (part of the ballroom rental). Our music teachers have guitars and keyboards, and the some of us may have shakers, or, well, jingle bells.
Classmates sit together, although parents are told that if their child wants to sit with the family that’s ok; (ah, but no getting up and down/back and forth, please).
Our student population these days is about 120 children, in four children’s house classrooms, and two elementary rooms, one for children 6-9 years old, one for those 9-12.
In recent years, we’ve had more of a performance per se; this year we’re returning to more the ‘community sing’ feeling we began with, when we were a school of sixty. This year– we have a song list of many not-very-seasonal but well known songs (we have the most enthusiastic chorus of John Denver’s “Country Roads” I’ve ever heard), some tangentially seasonal (one very nice song manages to mention Christmas from a Hanukkah perspective), and a song or two in Spanish.
The play list is structured so that:
Everybody sings an opening song, then the younger children sing a couple, the older children sing a couple, everybody sings together, then the younger, then the older, then everybody…. the idea is to create a song order so that the younger children can sing or stand every couple of songs or so, to help them remain settled and focused. To this end, we also do a lot of American Sign language. It’s a long time to be sitting.
We have practiced sitting in large groups every Wednesday since school began, in all-school gatherings and in Children’s House Group-sings, but this is different: after school—after dark!—in a Big New Place.
Families are asked to arrive about 15 minutes before we begin. Grown-ups find seats and teachers escort the children to their classmates. Our Head of School will welcome everyone, and we’ll begin; sing-a-long lyrics are printed on your programs.
We’ll close with that new old-traditional Montessori School of Northampton holiday hymn, “Country Roads,” just ’cause the Children’s House kids belt it out and what better way to end than with a rousing happy song, eh? Our Head of School will thank everyone for coming, wish them happy holidays, and ask parents to come forward and claim their kids when their classroom is called. We dismiss the children, youngest first, singing , ‘If you are in/ Classroom One, get up as quietly as the sun’ to “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”.
Staff stay behind and clean up, and everyone is home by 8:30. When things go right. And happy holidays to all and to all, Good Night.
Submitted by Matt Levin – Montessori School of Northampton