The Holiday Season at Mount St. Joseph

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I was in college (in 1972) only a semester before I dropped out. Even with financial assistance, the burden on my family was heavy. I just didn’t feel right about it, especially since I wasn’t studying for any specific kind of job. I was an English major, but I had no plans to be a journalist or a teacher. I hadn’t even been that hot on going to college in the first place. I decided it made more sense for me to get a full-time job and start making my way in the world.

Even though The College of Mount St. Joseph is in Cincinnati (about a 40-minute drive from Oakley in those days), I was encouraged to live at the dorm for a variety of reasons. This allowed me to feel part of the college community for the short time I was there. However, because of my brief stay, I tend to compartmentalize my experiences as if they weren’t part of my official memory bank. I don’t know why; but that’s how I wind up overlooking some of the special times I had.

One of these was St. Nicholas Eve. I’d learned that the senior class spent the evening decorating the lobby of the dorm. I’d also heard that each resident was supposed to put one shoe outside her door before she went to bed (most of us lived two to a room). I loved the idea of putting out a shoe instead of hanging a stocking, so I did this enthusiastically. I then finished studying and went to bed without thinking any more about it.

Sometime after midnight (maybe one a.m.), my roommate and I were startled awake by someone crashing open our door. I was barely conscious before I felt myself being pelted with hard candy. The entire senior class was parading en masse down the hall, shouting Christmas carols, ringing sleigh bells, blowing on the kind of long plastic trumpets that fans used to take to sports games, and hurling handfuls of hard candy through the open dorm doors. It was an astonishing experience to be sitting in bed in our semi-dark room, watching this chaotic pageant passing in the middle of the night.

Some juniors and sophomores, as well as those freshmen who knew the details of the tradition, had greased the handles of the dorm doors with Vaseline. Apparently this wasn’t enough to slow down the revelers. What’s more, resident floor assistants (all seniors) had brought along their master door keys, so even locked doors were no barrier.

Once the seniors had charged on to other floors, we ran outside to find our shoes filled with candy. Then, as the final part of the tradition, we donned robes or sweatshirts or whatever would make us warm and decent enough to rush down to the lobby to see the completed Christmas decorations. I don’t recall specific details. There was a tree, of course, and green boughs hung everywhere. There were a lot of windows and glass doors leading off of the lobby, and these were painted in holiday scenes both religious and secular.

There’s something about being half awake that lends enchantment to an experience. I was truly enchanted by the entire Yuletide rite. Our season included “Secret Santa” and a holiday meal in the cafeteria downstairs (also decorated by the seniors). I commented to an older student before we went home for break that I felt as if I’d already celebrated Christmas.

“I always feel that way,” the student replied. “When I get home, I think, ‘What? The decorations are still up? We still have gifts to open?’ It’s like a second Christmas.”

I wonder if that middle-of-the-night tradition survives today, and if new rituals have developed in the decades since that night of flying hard candy.

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