Cantab DC Christmas Formal  

An Evening of Cheer, Revelry and Awards!

Formal Hall Mixes Cambridge Tradition with American Cheer

On Friday 6 December 2013, the Cambridge Society of Washington DC hosted the first Christmas Formal Hall ever to be celebrated on the shores of the New Continent. The event was held in one of the most elegant and historic venues of the Nation’s Capital; the legendary Warne Ballroom at the Cosmos Club. This formal affair married the time-held sanctity of the Cambridge Formal Halls with American Holiday Cheer. The stately social setting of the Cosmos together with mixings of Brits and Yanks was reminiscent of the feast prepared by President Madison for King George III's troops in 1812 at the White House (see remarks by Havard Halland) - albeit these circumstances harkened a more congenial atmosphere in what had become the Trans-Atlantic/Anglo-American heart of Washington, DC for the evening.  

A reception in the long gallery started the evening with mulled wine and the musical stylings of Dr. Iraida Poberezhnaya, an internationally renown harpist who serenaded the crowd with a repertoire of seasonal Christmas ballads. Dr. Poberezhnaya has performed as a soloist and with ensembles in Europe and the US, including the Stanislavski Opera and Ballet Theatre (Moscow), Santa Barbara (California) Symphony, and now at the Cosmos Club in Washington DC. 

At the ring of the gong, the crowds were assembled in the great Warne Ballroom for the next part of the evening. The meal commenced with Pastor Samuel Ferguson (Fitzwilliam) giving the Latin Grace - borrowed from Trinity College, Cambridge - to a packed hall of 150 guests. Not too long after, the younger tables were quick to open their Christmas Crackers to get the festivities started. The ensuing meal included Butternut Squash Bisque with Almonds, Figs and Chives; Apple & Fennel Stuffed Chicken Breast with haricots verts, roasted tomato & herbed risotto; and Hot Popovers, a Cosmos Club favorite.

As the first and second courses were finished Cantab DC Chairman, David Humphries (King's), rose to address the assembled crowd of Cantabridgians, Oxonians and various assorted guests. Humphries spoke of a Judge Business School study describing how the ritual performance of ceremonial dining serves the institutional maintenance of the British Class system. Humphries went on to describe the authors' findings regarding alumni that have longings to re-create the Formal Hall system in overseas settings, meanwhile ribbing that - as a King's college graduate with anti-establishment leanings - he had only attended a Formal Hall once while reading in Cambridge. The highlight of the speech was the unexpected announcement of the delivery of the Sandy Ross MacDonald Award to the 2012 and 2013 Boards of the Cambridge Society of Washington DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia.

The award, given by the Cambridge Alumni Relations Office (CARO), commemorates the remarkable alumnus after which it is named. Sandy Ross MacDonald (1934-2010) was known to be the driving force behind the Cambridge Society of London for many years, in addition to serving as the founding Chair of the Networks and Volunteers Working Group. MacDonald was also one of a select group of members of the Executive Committee of the Cambridge Society who played a major role in the formation of CARO. The Award serves to recognise the remarkable contribution of Cambridge University's volunteer-led Alumni Groups and is 'presented to a Group whom the Networks and Volunteers Working Group judge as having demonstrated an outstanding level of creativity, innovation, leadership or service.'

Upon announcing the award the Hall broke into thunderous applause and Humphries gleefully concluded "...after government shutdowns bringing the US to the brink of default and broken healthcare websites, we are proud that something in Washington DC finally works." The award was to be officially presented the following night at the Global Cambridge Conference in Toronto.

After the speeches the Hall came into chorus for a (somewhat) harmonious singing of "We Wish you A Merry Christmas" whereupon the butlers burst into the room with plates of Figgy Pudding to appease the impatient, sugar-hungry crowd.  

At the conclusion of the meal Hugh O'Neill (Emmanuel) gave the post prandium grace with the simple, yet powerful words 'Benedicto benedicatur'. Of course the whole evening would not have been possible without the support of O'Neill, who as the Cantab DC Benefactor and an esteemed member of the Cosmos Club, graciously offered to host us under his stewardship. 

When the gong again rang, Port and Cheese were served as guests retired to the firelit Members' Dining Room. As the evening neared midnight, the young (and young at heart) were ushered out of Hall and proceeded to the after party for a performance of live jazz where the crowds tapered off into the wee morning hours. 

The Society greatly thanks the efforts of Rachel Hickling - daughter of Cantab DC Secretary, Alan Hickling - for arranging the beautiful display of flowers; and Eden Hansen - wife of Cantab DC Founder and President Emeritus, Peter Hansen - for taking pictures of the event. The tireless efforts of the rest of the Society Board and its volunteers, including; event coordinator Håvard Halland (Wolfson), Alan Hickling (Emmanuel), Ariane Rosen (Clare Hall), Bob Forte (Selwyn), Stan Wang (St. John's), Josef Martens (Wolfson), Pete MacLeod (Downing), are also not to be overlooked.   

As the Society looks forward to the coming year, we welcome you to our upcoming Burns Night and hope to see many of you again at future events. Until then we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Blair Lapres (Darwin)

President, Cantab DC


The event program can be viewed online along with pictures from the evening.

Hugh O'Neill (Emmanuel) Cantab DC Benefactor & Stefan Koeberle (King's) with Oxonian Guests

Nathan George (Emmanuel) with Guest & Dr. Iraida Poberezhnaya on the Harp

Pastor Samuel Ferguson (Fitzwilliam) with Guest & Oxonian Guests


Aaron Coble (King's), Cantab DC Webmaster et uxor Alexandria Richart (Clare Hall) &

Peter Hansen (Hughes), Cantab DC Founder et uxor Eden Hansen

Alan Hickling (Emmanuel), Cantab DC Secretary & David Humphries (King's), Cantab DC Chairman

Warne Ballroom at the Cosmos Club

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