Student-MadeDec 9, 2021

updated Jan 12, 2022

Reimagining Thanksgiving

A new approach to a favorite tradition

By Sam Taxter ’22, Horizons Media Intern

MHS students and adults gathered before Fall Break to celebrate community and gratitude.

The 2021 Harvest Luncheon was hosted by the sophomore class in the Thatcher Family Gymnasium on the Wednesday before Fall Break. All members of the Miss Hall’s community were greeted at the door and met with an immediate sense of gratitude and love. Carefully picked folk music filled the space, and table groups began to chatter amongst themselves. Past traditions at Miss Hall’s were finally being reintroduced, after a year of COVID-interrupted school.

After guests found their assigned tables, Class President Naomi ’24 took the stage to begin her opening remarks. Naomi shared an overview of the event and its purpose, stressing the importance of giving, appreciation, and togetherness. “While not everybody celebrates Thanksgiving, we believe that this tradition is important for celebrating community and giving thanks,” Naomi said.

The room erupted with applause and support as Welmerly ’24 and Honey ’24 presented research on the history of Thanksgiving and the land on which we celebrate it. Their work drew awareness to the fact that “we are taught in a mindset that only some stories matter.” The Luncheon was created in hopes of reinforcing positive aspects of Thanksgiving, while also informing the community of the ways in which its story and practice are flawed.

Class Vice President Ella ’24 then recognized people who made the event possible, such as the Culinary and Maintenance teams, fellow students, and class advisors. She also announced Chef Russ as the turkey-carver, a role given to a staff member who is looked up to in the community. Chef Russ and longtime Culinary Team member Sue Wojcik then carved the bird. Grace Notes, Miss Hall’s student-led a cappella group, took the stage to sing “Simple Gifts,” a traditional Shaker song and MHS tradition, and Naomi ’24 reminded guests to be respectful of the hard work that took place to make the Luncheon a reality.

Simple Gifts

Planning for this year’s reimagined event began earlier in the year and was incorporated into the sophomore Horizons experience, allowing students to take more ownership of the luncheon, noted Director of Horizons Erica Washburn. “I wanted to reimagine the Harvest Luncheon as a student-led initiative that would serve as an authentic performance of their learning, while also serving a need for connection with the community.”

Students self-selected into groups divided by task and were provided with parameters and guidelines around what needed to get done, but, ultimately, they were the ones deciding how things got done. Student committees handled details such as planning the menu, design and aesthetics, communications, layout, educational programming, and more.

“In hosting the Harvest Luncheon, we wanted to meet the needs of our community by providing space to be together and focus on gratitude, while also recognizing the historical context of these holidays and events,” Ms. Washburn added. “Knowing the history is important when we’re celebrating an event, so we wanted to make sure the students understood the tradition of this event at Miss Hall’s, as well as the broader historical significance of Thanksgiving in a way that centers the voices of indigenous people.”

The class read historical texts, primarily from native voices, and watched videos and explored the events of Thanksgiving. “One of the things we also wanted to continue was making sure our approach to learning history was experiential,” Ms. Washburn said. “Service is also important, so we incorporated that into our work.”

In October, 10th graders visited three local farms — Abode Farm (see photos), in New Lebanon, N.Y.; Shaker Creek Farm (see photos), in Nassau, N.Y.; and Rock Steady Farm (see photos), in Millerton, N.Y. — to tour the farms, learn more about local food systems and foodways, and participate in harvesting and other work. The following week, they visited three museums — the Berkshire Museum in downtown Pittsfield, the Bidwell House Museum (see photos) in nearby Monterey, and Mass MoCA in North Adams — that were hosting special exhibitions related to indigenous history and culture, including the history of the Mohican people who first inhabited the Berkshires.

Students used information gleaned from the trips to inform their planning for the event.

(By Hannie Truong ’22, Horizons Media )

For example, the menu spotlighted locally sourced ingredients and foods unique to nearby indigenous cultures, including the “Three Sisters” of squash, maize (corn), and beans. There was also roast cod, wild rice salads, and roast turkey, and dishes were inclusive of dietary restrictions. Buffet-style dining allowed guests to make choices and enjoy plates of their own.

At each table, community members were encouraged to connect with people they wouldn’t normally sit with at a typical lunch. Seating charts were thoughtfully planned to promote new friendships. Typical conversations were about the upcoming Fall Break, worldwide traditions, favorite foods, and most importantly, gratefulness.

The luncheon came to a close with slices of pumpkin pie and apple crisp, as well as a closing address from Joana ’24. “We would like to thank all the sophomores for their hard work,” Joana said. “We would also like to thank Dr. Burbank and Ms. Washburn who helped us prepare.” In an organized fashion, each table helped clean up. Students and staff reconnected with their peers on the walk back up to the Main Building.

The Harvest Luncheon provided the Miss Hall’s community with a moment of connectedness and closure before departing for a highly anticipated Fall Break.

(By Hannie Truong ’22, Horizons Media Intern)