Rituals at Lowell
Each Thursday afternoon, in the master’s residence at Lowell House, there is a tea, and “It is packed!” according to master Diana Eck, who has headed the house with co-master Dorothy Austin since 1998. “Tea is one ritual most beloved by students.” Typically 150 to 200 show up to drink tea and eat egg-salad sandwiches, cookies, and even baked Brie set out by work-study students. Masters and tutors are there, and Lowellians can invite friends from other houses as well. In warmer weather the crowd spills into the courtyard. “It’s also a kind of glue for the community,” says Eck. “The weekly teas are something we invest in.”
“There is no community without ritual,” Eck explains. “Ritual creates a sense of we. Here, we do have the advantage of these beautiful courtyards. We do have a significant history that we recount to students: we wrote a booklet about all the portraits that hang in the house. Students have a sense that their place matters.”
Throughout the year there are ritual events. Trivia Nights occur once per semester, with members of the Senior Common Room (SCR) squaring off against students. Before the Christmas break, Lowell has a Yule Dinner (“We play to the pagan substructure of everything,” Eck says) at which House Committee members carry in the decorated Yule log and toss it onto the hearth. Singer-songwriter Livingston Taylor, a Lowell SCR member who formerly lived in the house for years as a resident artist, wrote an anthem, “Forever Lowell,” that sometimes plays a part in house events.
The best-known of Lowell’s traditions is its High Table, a black-tie dinner held eight times a year for seniors, who are invited, one entryway at a time, to dine with members of the SCR on an elevated platform at one end of the house dining hall. “It feels as if you’re in a special world,” says Eck; the meal is served family-style, with wine and candlesticks, as the rest of the dining hall goes through the servery line and looks admiringly on.