The Christmas Assembly: An Outdated Tradition?

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As the first semester draws to a close and the long-awaited countdown to winter break is well underway, one event separates the school from vacation: the GDS Christmas assembly. A collection of activities, music and readings, the assembly has been an integral part of GDS tradition for decades.  This year, just like past years, a variety of GDS alumni, staff, administrators and students plan to participate.

History teacher Topher Dunne explained the history of the assembly: “Once GDS had an assembly space, the assemblies were examples of each religion. They became a tradition.”  

Dunne elaborated: “Philleo Nash, the first head of the board, was an anthropologist who said we should have sectarian assemblies where people explain their religions and also have peace and freedom as backdrops.”

Nonetheless, some community members have questioned whether the gathering contradicts some of GDS’s founding ideals, specifically its commitment to diversity. Sophomore Benji Fleurence does not seem to think there’s an issue.

“GDS was founded by Christians and Jews, so I understand where it comes from,” he said.

Dunne mostly agreed, but he thinks there might still be some work to do: “perhaps [the assemblies] need a broadening now, but this kind of goes back to the origins.”

While the GDS Christmas assembly is a storied tradition, the following questions still remain: is it a tradition worth holding on to? Does the assembly continue to be a fun, educational experience for all of the high school students, or has it become dated?

While Fleurence and Dunne seem to be in agreement on the importance of the assembly, Fleurence mentioned that it would be tremendously difficult to attempt to hold an assembly for every major holiday in each different religion. “It’s impossible for GDS to have an assembly for every single group and not have a special assembly every week,” he said. “So if GDS wants to keep those [Christmas and Passover] assemblies, they have to accept that maybe they’re not including every religious group.”

Dunne seems to never waiver on the symbolic importance of these assemblies for the school. GDS has always strived to promote social justice, he said, and the school’s religious assemblies are an important component of its mission.

While there is still much to be said about the Christmas assembly, the consensus seems to be in favor of keeping it the way that it currently is. Indeed, many members of the GDS community see the assembly as a fun and lighthearted way to wind down the semester and consequently are reluctant to change it.

By Harrison Lundy ’21 and Nino Imbroscio ’21

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