Bring Back The Thanksgiving MX

Another Beloved Parker Tradition Has Disappeared


Photo credit: Benjamin Kagan

The Class of 2024 sings simple gifts during the Thanksgiving MX on Wednesday, November 26th, 2014.

Every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the entire Parker community would gather in the auditorium to hear third grade students present about Thanksgiving. For many years this meant watching third graders perform plays, sing songs, and discuss their traditions for the holiday. Over the past few years, this traditional gathering has started to change.

Before I delve further into what the Thanksgiving Morning Exercise means to me, I want to acknowledge that students who came to Parker after third grade likely won’t agree with my stance on the Morning Ex. A substantial part of why the Thanksgiving MX means so much to me is due to my participation in it, and the memories that the show brings back for me.

Let’s talk about my experience with the Thanksgiving MX. When I was a third grader, my class and I prepared for the MX for months. We spent time with the drama teacher learning a dance, used countless hours of class time to memorize lines, and learned about the holiday. The skills I gained in this experience were helpful and contributed to my learning. Additionally, I see this experience as one that is core to Parker’s value system. Our school spends a significant amount of time discussing “learning by doing,” and I believe that this Morning Ex was one excellent example of that. Instead of students listening to a teacher talk about Thanksgiving, or having students read about it, third graders were given the chance to immerse themselves in studying about the holiday.

In each Lower School grade at Parker, there is a specific focus on a historical time period and culture. As a junior now, I don’t remember many of the things I learned as a Lower School student. However, I can still vividly recount many of the different cultures that I studied in each of my lower school years. In second grade I remember learning about Japan and participating in the tea room. In third grade we learned about Thanksgiving in addition to the history of Chicago. In fourth grade we learned about Greek culture and Egyptian culture. Our learning culminated in both the Greek play and the Egyptian museum.

When the third grade’s involvement with the performance first started in 1979, the focus was primarily to educate the Parker community about the holiday. The MX has shifted its focus over the years. The MX eventually became an opportunity for third grade students to reflect on the many things for which they are grateful. I feel that this is a meaningful community effort to support these students and help them in their learning journey.

For the students who joined the Parker community after third grade, I understand that all of the things I just discussed may mean nothing to you. Many probably saw the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving as a wasted day of school and just prolonging the start of the holiday break. This year, in fact, the administration scheduled conferences for JK-8 on the Monday and Tuesday leading up to the holiday, leaving the high school students and faculty alone in the building to mull over our gratitude. In the course of writing this piece, I realized that the students in my grade who came to Parker in ninth grade have never witnessed the Thanksgiving MX, so this article may mean even less for those folks.

One of my greatest frustrations with the loss of this tradition is the complete lack of information surrounding the MX disappearing. Besides the article I wrote in “The Weekly” about this very subject on November 24th, 2020, there has been no formal notice to the community that this tradition was taken away. This Morning Exercise, in addition to many other Parker traditions simply disappeared off the Blue Calendar and was never talked about by the administration. If the school is going to get rid of traditions integral to so many things at Parker, I feel that the community is at least owed an explanation as to why these things were taken away. 

For the first ten years that I was educated at Parker, I sat in the auditorium the day before Thanksgiving and heard students present about holiday traditions, gratitude, family and community. Looking back on these experiences, the piece of it I miss the most is the ending. For generations upon generations of Parker students, the classic song “Simple Gifts” was sung proudly in the auditorium on that Wednesday. This marked the transition from school to the holiday celebration, and is a song that holds a special place in the hearts of many Parker alumni and it is a song with words that I make an effort to reflect upon throughout the year. 

In closing, I want to leave you with a “Simple” reminder. We must appreciate our traditions because they represent the core of our community. To reshape traditions so they more closely align with current thinking and practices is understandable, but to have so many important milestones disappear without doing the hard work to make them fit with society’s current state is just disappointing. Without our Parker traditions, we are nothing more than a group of people going about our separate lives in the same building.