End the Day the Camp Mason Way

By Christian Hince, Summer Camper and Counselor

For 10 years I attended a Camp Mason. In my time, summer camp is a place where wonderful relationships and life-altering experiences come easily and quickly, and Camp Mason has proven this to me with the tradition of cabin chat.

Cabin chat happens every night before lights out at Camp Mason with the same general process. A counselor lights a candle and places it on the floor, everybody in the cabin sits around it in a circle, and the lights go off. You can do it outside too, whether it be on the porch, around a fire, or under the stars.

The point of cabin chat is self-reflection and group bonding, so it typically involves a counselor asking at least one question, ranging from goofy hypotheticals to deep, introspective queries.

Here are some rules for cabin chat:

  • Only one person can speak at a time and nobody can answer questions more than once. This emphasizes respect for the speaker and sets a time limit.
  • If you like somebody else’s answer, you wait until they’re done speaking and either snap your fingers or lightly knock on wood. Keeping it quiet allows the subtlety which cabin chat deserves.
  • What is said in cabin chat, stays in cabin chat. A tradition which can get highly personal needs to ensure privacy for those willing to be vulnerable. And in that same vein, nobody has to answer. Not everybody will feel comfortable getting deep, and that’s fine.

Once everybody is done answering, cabin chat ends with one person blowing out the candle. This person, either nominated by counselors or their fellow campers, could be someone who acted kind during the day or someone who’s shown great spirit across the entire week. It could be someone who entered camp unsure and perhaps even felt homesick, but came out of their shell. Generally, cabin chat is about ending the day on a rewarding note.

As a camper, this is exactly what it meant to me. Lighter questions like “what would be your favorite useless superpower?” allowed us to be creative and share a laugh, while serious ones such as “what was a time where you felt helpless?” proved how difficult life can be sometimes. There is comfort in knowing we all experience hardship and have each other’s back.

Leading cabin chat

When I became a counselor at Camp Mason three years ago, I wanted to model this blend of fun and vulnerability through the questions I asked in cabin chat. “What was a vulnerable moment for you?” always gets campers to speak on dramatic life experiences while “Who’s an important person in your life?” gets kids to talk about beautiful relationships of theirs. Then for goofier nights, I’ll ask the superpower question and “If it could rain anything, what would you choose?”

As someone who’s worked with older boys generally, ages 12 to 16, I’ve heard stories about self-harm, loss at early age, and relationships sadly becoming distant. I’ve also heard about wonderful friends and mentors, times of personal accomplishment, and future aspirations.

Why cabin chat is important?

Cabin chat is great because it gives structure to something which is hard to do. Not everybody can casually talk about the most polarizing parts of their life, but cabin chat gives this a time and place which are safe and non-judgmental.

While cabin chat is meant to elevate the experiences of kids just like any activity at Camp Mason, my Hungarian friend Adam is right in saying there’s a selfish aspect for counselors as well. Many times when I’ve asked deep questions to close the day,  I’ve also had some insecurity, trauma, or love which I’ve bottled up for too long. As a counselor, learning how to introspect alongside campers is a powerful thing.

As both a child and adult, Camp Mason has introduced me to unforgettable friends and incredible life moments, and this is in no small part thanks to cabin chat.

Christian at camp in 2023 with a camper from his cabin.