Today was our annual Decorating Day at school, where we suspend classes and decorate the building. It was a very different experience than it’s been during the previous two Christmases I’ve been there. First, we’re now decorating a long, institutional-style hallway with classrooms on either side rather than a beautiful but cavernous three-story building — that requires some changes to decorating style.
The bigger change, though, was in how we promoted it. I don’t know how The Murphy Centre has done Decorating Day in past years but during the last two years we sprang it on students as a surprise, only telling them when they arrived that morning that classes were cancelled. Our students’ attendance is so bad anyway that we figured advance warning would lead to almost no-one showing up for a non-required extracurricular day.
The “Surprise, it’s Decorating Day!” approach led to one of three responses:
1) People arriving who were anxious to get some work done, getting very angry because they’d come “for nothing.”
2) People arriving and immediately leaving because, “Hey, we’ve got the day off!”
3) A handful of eager people — three or four — staying to help the staff decorate.
This year we decided to be a little more true to our philosophy of empowerment, dignity and respect, and warn people in advance. But we tried to make it as attractive as possible with a personal hand-delivered invitation for each student and promises of hot chocolate and pizza for lunch for those who came to help.
This year’s strategy was a great success. We ended up with a crew of about 15 students who really wanted to help decorate and were enthused and having fun. There was a great spirit and the place looked terrific by lunchtime. And I did my usual Decorating Day routine of wandering vaguely from place to place watching and commenting on what people were doing, trying to vary my movements enough that nobody would notice I was doing no actual decorating. I love the Christmassy mood and team spirit of Decorating Day — I just don’t like the actual work part, with stringing the lights and hanging things up.