Ask a Nightingale alumna about her favorite memories from her time inside the blue doors and you will hear about homecomings, inspiring faculty, and class plays. But the tradition that is most often and most fondly recalled is Around the Tree—the ceremony that brings together students, faculty, staff, and alumnae every December to celebrate the holiday season and the highly-anticipated winter break.
The Around the Tree ceremony dates back to at least the early 1950s (possibly earlier) and—while the many aspects of the event have evolved over the decades—the spirit of the event has remained unchanged. Students enter the auditorium hand-in-hand with their big and little siblings. Seniors lead the way with their Kindergarten little siblings following close behind. The schoolhouse joins together in a variety of songs ranging from “Let it Snow” to “Feliz Navidad” to “Oh Hanukkah."
The spirited singing culminates with the entire schoolhouse participating in an interactive rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The beloved tradition incorporates each class by assigning a “day,” starting with Class I (the first day) and concluding with Class XII (the twelfth day). At their turn, students stand and perform their verse, a moment of pride for each class. In 1975, the song’s inclusion of the entire schoolhouse became complete with the addition of the Kindergartener’s adorable “Fa La La” which finishes off each round.
For many years, lower school students were responsible for decorating a pine tree that stood in the center of the auditorium and served as the focal point of the ceremony. In 2015, the tradition took on special meaning for Class XII, as the senior students were given the privilege to choose the tree that would represent the school that year. Every year since, the tree has reflected the ideals and aspirations of the senior class. Some examples include an inspirational olive branch (reflecting peace) and a creative LEGO tree (an homage to ingenuity at Nightingale). For this year’s centennial Around the Tree ceremony, the class of 2020 chose a tree of 100 books. The books, which included classics like Charlotte's Web and The BFG and newer titles like The Fault in Our Stars and Between the World and Me, were to be donated to charity following the ceremony. The selection of books represented each unique member of the class and exemplified the spirit of the class as a whole.
Just as the senior class chooses a tree each year to represent their class, the Kindergarten class is tasked with selecting a story. Alongside Head of School Paul A. Burke, members of the senior class then read the story aloud to the entire schoolhouse. This year, the class of 2032 chose Anika Alduamuy Denise’s The Love Letter, a story of love and friendship that emulates the strength of relationships fostered behind the blue doors.
Though the centerpiece of the auditorium now changes and the stories and poems shared vary year to year, the spirit of the Around the Tree ceremony nevertheless remains unwavering. At a school where relationships have always stood at the center of our identity, it remains inspiring to witness alumnae from each decade back in the schoolhouse sharing the joy and cheer of students as they anticipate those famous closing words: “school is dismissed!”