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December 7, 2006

GSPIA staffer spreads holiday cheer all year

The Nationality Rooms aren’t the only place that attracts crowds of viewers to their holiday decor. The tradition lives on in a smaller, but equally festive form at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs where Mary Ann Gebet, assistant to the dean, is famous for her holiday spirit.

This time of year, Gebet’s work area becomes a tourist destination of sorts as faculty, staff and students stop by – some just to see what she’s wearing.

“I usually decorate myself — my body — the Monday after Thanksgiving,” she said.

“I look forward to it all year because it’s a tradition and everyone just wants to see.”

Gebet, who has been at GSPIA for more than 30 years, is well known for decorating her work area with seasonal decor year-round, but the Christmas season is her favorite. “I like Santa Claus,” she said.

“I like the meaning of Christmas and the meaning of Santa Claus and jolly old St. Nick. It means love and hope and peace and joy,” she said.

GSPIA Interim Dean David Miller jokes that each December their familiar Mary Ann is replaced by a representative from the North Pole exchange program.

Gebet said she loves hats. Among hers is a collection of Santa hats in a variety of styles: plain red with white trim, maroon with leopard trim, candy-striped or even one that blasts a loud digital rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” She finds holiday hats and sweaters in odd places: drugstores, party stores or on shopping forays on the day after Christmas. Last year she picked up an elf ballcap emblazoned with “Bah Humbug” that she jokes is for her longtime co-worker Grace Schetley, for whom one day of Christmas is sufficient.

Gebet wears a different holiday-themed sweater or outfit each day — she’s collected more than four weeks’ worth of tops so none is repeated in any given year. Her favorite is a white sweatshirt emblazoned with an Old-World style Santa. She even has an elf outfit — complete with pointy ears attached to the hat — she plans to wear to the GSPIA holiday gathering. Her wardrobe includes three pairs of Christmas shoes, from glitzy velvet slippers to a pair of elf shoes with turned-up toes, a gift from a co-worker. “It’s fun,” she said. “It’s a magical time of year.”

Among the holiday decorations Gebet has set up at GSPIA is a Christmas tree that she wants GSPIA faculty and students to decorate with ornaments or items symbolic of their nations’ way of celebrating. “It’s nice for everyone to participate in. I hope it’ll become a tradition,” she said.

Christmas is the highlight of her favorite stretch of holidays that begins with the fall’s back to school, then Halloween and Thanksgiving – each of which Gebet celebrates with appropriate outfits or decorations in the department.

On Halloween, she’s beneath a rainbow wig in full clown garb for the day. She admits it’s confusing to some international students unfamiliar with the American way of marking Halloween, she said. For New Year’s, there’s a special sweatshirt featuring post-party holiday reindeer who’ve apparently overindulged in the liquid refreshments, then it’s blinking red hearts for Valentine’s Day in February.

And, when those holidays are through, March is the time for her birthday, for which she throws her own party. She brings her own sheet cake and asks everyone to sign her birthday card. And of course there’s a birthday hat, a felt cake-shaped chapeau with candles all around. “It’s just wonderful,” she said, noting that it was a gift from her brother-in-law. “I’m very easy to shop for,” she added with a laugh.

Gebet said her holiday spirit has always been with her and that she’s decorated year-round ever since she came to the University.

“I’m a seasonal person. I just enjoy all the seasons,” she said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 8

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