Heading into the holiday season, I find my thoughts going back several years to a party I attended at the elementary school where I worked as a counselor. Each of the 32 students contributed some kind of food.
There were large bottles of soda, big bags of chips and cookies. Some brought candy; others, beautifully decorated cupcakes. As soon as this bounty had been placed on a table that parents had decorated, the kids made a mad rush! And no sooner had they gobbled their share, they asked for more!
Though there were just five minutes left in the school day, their teacher released them to work off some of that frenetic energy. Their party had lasted 15 minutes – and I finally understood why one teacher had told me, “I like to take a personal day on party days.”
What are we teaching with parties like this? I wondered. I knew some schools had stopped allowing sweets, opting for non-edible items like pencils and stickers. That’s a good change, I thought, but is it just gifts that make something a party? What kind of party could I create that would be more meaningful?
For inspiration, I turned to the mindfulness and yoga practices I’ve studied most of my life.
Thinking of wholesome food, I began with a trip to a local farm, where I was able to taste, touch and smell many varieties of regional fruit. I bought Seckel pears, perfectly ripe, and sweet Honeycrisp apples, as well as a gallon of freshly pressed apple juice. I bought gluten-free pumpkin cookies from a local bakery and Free Trade chocolate that helps fund programs to protect endangered species. Then I gathered some beautiful fall objects in a basket – leaves, pods, late blooming mums and fuchsias. I packed my hand-painted Turkish glasses and a deep red decanter, along with one of my favorite pashmina shawls, LED candles, cloth napkins – some deep red, some decorated with fall leaves – and a soothing CD to create a mood.
And with that, I was off to the 7th and 8th graders waiting in the Behavior Classroom!
We began our party with some calming, yoga-based breathing. Then I turned on the music and dimmed the lights. “Sit in a circle,” I said. “We’re having a different kind of party this year.” I placed the shawl in the center and asked a few students to turn on the candles and create a centerpiece with the flowers.
After they had all cleaned their hands with wipes I’d provided, I passed around the deep red napkins. “Open them,” I said, “and admire their color.” We did this with the decorated napkins, too, admiring the artwork.
The basket came next. “Use these objects to decorate your setting,” I said, giving each a small piece of colorful paper, as well, with their name calligraphed on it.
Then I carefully passed around the glasses and decanter. “Smell the cider before pouring it,” I guided. “Don’t taste anything until all have been served.”
I passed the foods around one by one, sharing a story for each. I told them about the farm I had visited – how beautiful it was, how I had thought of them while buying the fruit. I read the label on the chocolate and talked about how we were helping protect animals. I told them about the wonderful little bakery that had made the cookies.
Once everyone had a small amount of food, I passed around a stone for each to hold while telling us one of their favorite things about the holidays. They spoke quietly. They listened to one another. They ate slowly. They enjoyed their food.
One student said that she felt like she was in a different country.
“Do you like it?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s cool.”
Another said, “This is a quiet party.”
“What do you think about that?” I asked.
“It’s much better. I hate all of that noise.”
The party lasted 45 minutes. We talked about healthy food and parties and gratitude. We shared stories about holidays and told of the parties we’d enjoy with friends and family this year. Afterward, one of the boys said. “Let’s have parties like this every time.”
What can you do differently during the holidays this year? What healthy foods and gratitude can you weave into what you now do around the table or in the classroom? Try something new this holiday season…and carry it through into the New Year with ongoing holidays and celebrations. We’d love to hear what you do – and invite you to share your ideas here in the comments, as well as on our Good People Everywhere blog.
Crossposted on Today’s Parent & other family blogs