With winter break approaching, students are excited about traveling and holiday festivities, but they often forget that teachers and staff do exciting things over the holidays too. These are some of Pace faculty members’ favorite Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years traditions.

Ms. Millaway’s son Carter celebrates Hanukkah at school. Photo: Ms. Millaway

Upper School history teacher Christine Carter has many fun Christmas traditions that she participates in every year. “My family always picks out a big tree,” said Dr. Carter “My dad used to search for weeks leading up to Christmas for the best place to get a tree, and I try to live up to his high standards …but I don’t put that much time into the search.” She also shared that her family puts lights outside their house, but “it is something that Mr. Carter usually does with the kids.” She enjoys watching “Elf,” “The Grinch,” with Jim Carrey and “It’s a Beautiful Life,” even though that one makes everyone cry. 

Dr. Carter said, “We always go to church on Christmas Eve, and my sister and I show up early to get good seats for our big group in the balcony.” Every Christmas, she makes sure to honor her family. “I love taking out old family treasures that remind me of the people in my family who have passed,” said Dr. Carter.

Upper School counselor and psychology teacher Ellye Millaway loves to travel with her family during Christmas. “I have spent my last few Christmases in Mexico, Nashville, Asheville and New York City,” said Ms. Millaway. She has some very special traditions that she enjoys for Hanukkah. “We celebrate Hanukkah for 8 nights, and everyone in our house gets a present every night. We eat latkes, the ones from Trader Joe’s are the best, and play dreidel. And one of our favorite ways to celebrate is by inviting our non-Jewish neighbors and friends to come over and celebrate with us and learn more about the holiday,” said Ms. Millaway. Ms. Millaway also wants to note that Hanukkah is not actually a very significant Jewish holiday, but people believe that it is because of its proximity to Christmas. She states “My favorite Jewish holiday is Passover!”

Like Dr. Carter, Ms. Millaway also believes that “Elf” is the best holiday movie. Ms. Millaway says “There are no good Hanukkah movies, and “Eight Crazy Nights” is objectively bad, but we watch the “Rugrats” Hanukkah episode every year.”

Head of School Fred Assaf loves Christmas and likes making Christmas last a long time. Mr. Assaf says, “Every Christmas we open half the presents and then we break for a big breakfast so that the day lasts longer. We make a big breakfast, in our house that’s like 20 pounds of bacon and pancakes and all that. And then we resume the opening. And then in the afternoon we usually all sneak into the Pace gym and play a sport.”

When it comes to Christmas decorations, Mr. Assaf says, “I am a big fan of very large blowup inflatable Christmas decorations. So I’m that guy.” The Assaf family usually travels during New Year’s to go to college football bowl games.

Class of 2024 Dean and Upper School history teacher Caitlin Terry loves fall and winter, and Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday. Mrs. Terry has a unique Christmas tradition that she adopted after going to Iceland for Christmas in 2015. Ms. Terry says “We learned about the practice of jolabokaflod, which translates to the Christmas flood of books. So, in Iceland on every Christmas Eve, you give someone a book. That’s our favorite Christmas Eve tradition. It’s honestly better than getting presents the next day because we know each other really, really well and we are both giant nerds.” Ms. Terry also loves to start off the New Year well by hosting an afternoon open house party.

Upper School Latin teacher Elizabeth Kann has great memories celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas since she converted to Judaism. Ms. Kann’s Christmas celebrations look different depending on where she is for the holiday. Ms. Kann said “If we are at home, we definitely get Chinese food and then watch a movie, like ‘Die Hard’ or the ‘Rudolph’ claymation movie. We also like to drive around and see lights or go to the lights at the Botanical Gardens. If we are with my family in Tennessee, we do Christmasy stuff with presents, a tree, stockings and more. If we are in Baltimore with my husband’s family, we always go to the lights display in Hamden. That’s a pretty famous display called Miracle on 34th Street that started the same year as the movie and it is totally fun and over the top.” 

Ms. Kann does not consider herself to be a big decorator, but she hangs up lights, some Hanukkah decorations, sets out menorahs and loves to set out a Tree of Life. She even sets out a Ruth Bader Ginsburg menorah that says “I Dissent.” Ms. Kann said, “We always celebrate at least one night of Hanukkah with our friends we met when we were pregnant with our oldest children and we all go to be good friends. We do latkes with them every year and it has been amazing to be so close for more than 20 years now. Otherwise, we usually light candles and give gifts at home. Pretty chill because it is usually during exams and that’s a hard time to go all in! Depending on the timing, we usually go to at least one of the nights of the lighting of the big menorah in East Cobb.”

Get the discussion going! Leave a comment or reply below.