Holidays Invade the Houses

The Mystery and Mayhem of Tradition

Yet Lanson did not mention, and Sarah A. Tucker '00, social chair on the Kirkland House committee refused to comment concerning what students say is the most famous tradition of all: Incestfest.

According to resident Marisa L. Porges '00, "it is the culmination of Secret Santa week and provides an opportunity for a formal where only House members are allowed."

"It becomes a closer event," Porges says. "I think at one time pre-randomization, it might have lived up to its name more accurately, but now it provides a closer knit environment"

Yet not every House has such long-standing holiday traditions.

"We have nothing like those crazy cats in Kirkland," says Kimble Poon '99 of Mather House. "Maybe we'll organize a polar bear expedition to jump in the Charles. With all of this work, someone just might be crazy enough."


Eliot House is perhaps trying to start a new tradition with "Holiday Tag," which combines the popular campus game "Assassin" and secret gift exchanges. According to Eliot House Committee, more than 80 residents are participating.

Even holiday traditions change with the times and most current celebrations try to recognize the diversity of beliefs and traditions. While many events this year remain Christmas-oriented, the focus is shifting.

Kiely points to the "greater and greater inclusion of different traditions in what we call the Adams House Christmas-Hanukkah-WinterFeast."

Kiely says the Adams dinner included singing by the smaller Kuumba chorus ensemble, Brothers, a dance performance by an Indian student, a telling of the story of Hanukkah and a "secular marking of winter."

Brothers will also sing at holiday celebrations in Cabot House which Co-Master James Ware says are part of an effort to welcome the House as a whole.

"We strive to celebrate the holiday traditions in a way that emphasizes shared values of community and family rather than a particular religious perspective," Ware says.

But welcoming more students has necessitated a secularization of some traditions.

"The holiday traditions in Kirkland have lost some of their religious purpose, a change made a virtual certainty given the diverse character of Harvard's modern student body," Lanson says.

One of the changes that Jeannie A. Lang '00 of Lowell House has noticed since last year is directly related to the new Masters of Lowell. Before this year's holiday dinner, Eck, who is a professor of comparative religion and Indian studies, spoke about candle-lighting ceremonies in the different religions that celebrate winter holidays. According to Lang, last year there was not much mention of other religions

"She [Eck] has brought so much culture," Lang said. "It's great."