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Nothing Like Home

Thanksgiving at Harvard

By Erica L. Werner

Like so many small winged fowl, the vast majority of Harvard students will go home to roost this Thanksgiving, leaving behind a campus full of empty dorm rooms and desolate dining halls.

And while the 500 or so undergraduates who will be sticking around for the holiday can console themselves with the thought of a Harvard-style Thanksgiving Day dinner at Mather House, many students say that won't compare to the festive atmosphere of home.

"Being alone with maybe only 10 people in the whole house is pretty depressing," said Elbert S. Huang '92, who stayed at the University last Thanksgiving and will do so again this this weekend.

Huang said his agenda for the upcoming weekend mainly involves "working and eating a lot." But not everyone who stays at Harvard goes through Thanksgiving in the doldrums, he said. Last year, Huang said that he visited two of the first-years in his prefect group expecting to find them in a funk.

Instead, he said, "I found them frolicking together in the snow. They were having a great time."

Mihui Pak '94 said she has no great expectations of merriment this weekend. Although she said she wants to see her family, the cost of travel to her California home makes a return trip impossible.

Pak said she turned down offers to stay with friends because "I feel like I might be uncomfortable if I went home with people, and I might be really homesick."

Atypical Pastimes

Throughout the campus, these Cambridge-bound students are planning alternative weekends, turning to community service, money-making opportunities and other atypical holiday pastimes to pass the time over the next few days. Others will take advantage of the unusual calm to catch up on work and sleep.

A few have opted instead to share their stuffing with a roommate or friend, avoiding the unwieldy transportation arrangements which would see them home.

Such a one is Declan T. Fox '94, a native of Ireland who plans to spend his first Thanksgiving eating, drinking and making merry at his roommate's Boston home. "I feel a little uncomfortable with it," Fox admitted. "But it's either that or the Union."

Adding to Fox's holiday angst are nagging uncertainties about the underlying concept of the upcoming holiday. "I just don't understand this Thanksgiving," Fox said. In Ireland, he explained, "we drink twice as much and eat twice as much turkey at Christmas."

Fox is one of a number of students whose background puts a different slant on what is essentially a national holiday. "This is just like a long weekend for me," said Shugoo Imam '94 of Pakistan, professing an immunity to teary-eyed holiday sentiment.

Imam, who attended an American school in her native country, said the prospect of a solitary holiday in the Yard doesn't depress her, as the distance of her home makes a visit unrealistic. "That kind of thing is to be expected when you come from so far away," she said.

Beatriz E. Quezada '93, whose parents came to the U.S. from Mexico, said that she won't be missing Thanksgiving dinner entirely. On the other hand, she said, she won't be having the same kind of holiday repast that most students envision when they think of Thanksgiving.

Cashing in on Immobility

Like many undergraduates, Quezada has opted to spend tomorrow working for Harvard Student Agencies (HSA) Catering Services.

"It bothers me a little to be catering someone else's Thanksgiving dinner when I could be having one of my own," she said.

However, Quezada said the prospect of earning more than $8 an hour serving pie is an adequate comfort.

According to Nancy S. Lindholm '93, assistant manager of HSA Catering, Quezada is one of about 50 students who are cashing in on their holiday immobility this year. Lindholm said that the catering jobs, which involve preparation, serving, clean-up and healthy tips at family dinners are "a nice alternative for people who are going to be around, to work in a family atmosphere."

Although the prospect of watching from the kitchen as someone else's family and friends celebrate, Lindholm said that "most people are realistic about it."

"The families are really nice and relaxed," she said.

Champagne, Turkey and Conversation

Other Cambridge-bound students are spending their holiday working with public service programs. Sandy Shah of Little Brothers, a service group which provides meals for elderly people in the Boston area, said about 150 students each year participate in the organization's Thanksgiving Day program.

Students involved in the program bring champagne, turkey and conversation to the homes of house-ridden people. "We've become a very popular thing for people to do who don't have anywhere to go during Thanksgiving," Shah said. "We've had very positive response."

Michael J. Middleton '87, Harvard director of community service programs for first-year students, touts community service as a rewarding and beneficial alternative to the traditional self-indulgent activities for which Thanksgiving is known.

"Thanksgiving's a tough time for a lot of people, like the poor or homeless," Middleton said. "The problems they face during the rest of the year, like isolation, are just intensified. Even for first-years [who stay at Harvard during Thanksgiving] it doesn't live up to the expectations people have of it."

Middleton, who himself volunteers at the Haven for Hunger soup kitchen in Peabody, said many students jump at the chance to "share a little of themselves with someone else."

Consumers and Servers

Still, there are many at Harvard who prefer consuming food to serving it. The 250 Ivy League students participating in the seventh annual Pachanga celebration and forum, a four-day round of workshops, dinners and dances, will be doing a lot of that this weeekend.

Hosted by the Mexican-American student group Raza, Pachanga will provide students with a Thanksgiving dinner and traditional Mexican feast, as well as the chance to hear keynote speaker Jaime Escalante, whose teaching exploits inspired the film Stand and Deliver.

The activity is designed as a forum for discussion about issues facing Latinos in the U.S., with the focus this year on education, said Joseph P. Martinez '92, one of the event's coordinators.

"A lot of people can't go home to California or Texas for Thanksgiving, and since many Latinos are from those regions we thought we'd have a Thanksgiving for people on the East coast," Martinez said.

Martinez said that while festivities and lectures are geared towards Mexican-Americans, students of all backgrounds will be present. "It's primarily for students who aren't going home for Thanksgiving," he said.

Even those students who don't have any group activities planned for the weekend do not face the prospect of a completely solitary Thanksgiving experience.

Dale Hennessey, assistant manager for the administration of the dining services, said she expects about 300 people to show up for tomorrow's dinner in Mather House. Those students can look forward to a "traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings," she said.

And while dining services employees may not be able to take the place of mom serving up the mincemeat, Hennessey said that those who work on Thanksgiving try to lend at least some sense of holiday revelry to the event. "They like doing it because it's different that the regular fare. They get to do a little flair, and the employees enjoy that," she said.

And at the very least, Harvard officials say that the occupants of near-vacant houses and dorms need fear not for their safety.

"Because of measures taken there haven't been any problems in the past," said Deputy Chief Jack W. Morse.

Morse said that Thanksgiving weekend is potentially a problem security period. But, he said, "We keep special care and watch the students."

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