5:oo PM on Saturday evening, the sun is down over the leafless Black Forest as we scurry between table s and up on the stage, putting the finishing touches on the decorations for this year’s Christmas Banquet. The theme is “Through The Wardrobe,” an homage to C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and over the past few weeks we’ve carefully created and collected decorations to recreate this magic land in the auditorium of Black Forest Academy. We have a foyer transformed into Professor Diggory’s study, a stage full of evergreen trees, an impressive wardrobe hosting a fur coat and even a pair of beavers perched genially on the piano. As students begin to arrive, we switch on twinkle lights and ignite candles, transforming the room into a silvery winter wonderland, just as we’d imagined.
Christmas Banquet happens every year at BFA, and as such has developed certain mysterious rules. As this year’s Student Council advisors, Timmy and I have spent the better part of the last two months learning the secret language of what makes a banquet great here. We have learned that the students prefer being served dinner to a buffet line (“Because buffets, that’s what we have every night in the dorm!”) and that “Those little mousse desserts, they’re not our favorite. We like cake.” We’ve gathered that they like dancing, even if it has to be instructional dancing, but that they really don’t want to take photos in the same place as the dancing, where their shoes need to be off. “We wear these nice shoes,” the girls lament, “And then in the photos we were barefoot!”
Beyond the preferences, however, Banquet, like all things Christmas, has taken on a heavy weight of traditions. There are letters from faraway parents, emailed and printed and left on tables for their children to find. There are presents from Secret Santa, delivered and opened on the evening of Banquet, the culmination of a week of mysterious gifts. And there are wishes of all shapes and sizes, made by students ages ago, to grant from the stage for the audience’s delight. Half a dozen kids wish for gummy bears, a few more for teddy bears, and one for a tea party to happen in his AP United States History class.
Because of the transient nature of the students and staff, we joke that it only takes two years to establish a tradition at BFA. One fun event is a success, but if we do it next year, we’ll have to do it every year after. “It’s tradition,” they’ll cry. “We always spend most of the fall fair wandering around the city with flowers in our hands, ready to ask the first English-speaking girl we see to the Christmas Banquet. We have to!” I laugh at this part of our community, but I realize that I’m part of this, too.
Traditions link us with the past, but they also connect us together, knitting our community into a place of shared experience and history. In just four years here in the Black Forest, I’ve developed my own traditions. I visit the Töpfermarkt or the Anglican church’s book sale each year, or I walk through the forest to the exact spot where I know that holly grows, hoping to find some to make a boutonnière for Timmy for this Christmas Banquet. Traditions, in the end, make me feel like I live somewhere, and remind me to be thankful for another year of God’s faithfulness, wherever I am. In Seattle, there were other traditions, and I’m sure that other seasons will bring their own. For now, though, I’m thankful for these ones.
The students begin arriving at 5:30, pouring in from the cold night and waiting with flowers to exchange with nervous and well-dressed dates. They come from all places, these students, bringing the uniqueness that makes the classroom a lively and unpredictable adventure. Tonight, however, I’m struck with their unity, coming to share in one Christmas tradition, celebrating in the woods of Narnia another year together.