December 6, 2018
It’s the season of traditions here at Harley: the Lower Schoolers are rehearsing Pageant, the music department is getting the Candlelight music ready, and both seniors and new teachers are starting to work on their costumes for Elf Day. It was striking to me when I first came to Harley just how devoted to traditions we are. At a school where Become What Thou Art is the motto, individual initiative and expression are celebrated, and Upper School student schedules are as distinct as fingerprints, people nonetheless adore those events that celebrate community. We want to be ourselves; we want to be together.
Candlelight began as a kind of nativity reenactment in 1926, but has evolved into a pluralistic celebration of all of the faith traditions that are celebrated in the school community. It’s an extraordinary ceremony, with music and readings from all around the world, all mediated by light thrown only by candles–and by silence. It is that rare event at Harley that is both serious and somewhat formal. “Pluralism” is, as they say, a few giant steps beyond tolerance. Tolerating other people or their traditions is setting the bar pretty low; finding a way to understand and show respect for other cultures and faiths is the focus of a pluralistic ceremony such as Candlelight, as it is of the School as a whole.
The goal of Elf Day, it must be said, is silliness–but it’s silliness of the highest order! All of the seniors and faculty dress, literally, as elves on the last day of school before December break. That day is a half-day of celebratory fun, as the seniors serve lunch to everyone in the school and put on a play for the Lower School children. It’s an absolute delight.
First up, though, in the holiday pantheon at Harley is Pageant (this year, on Thursday and Friday, December 13th and 14th). Pageant, for those who’ve never seen it, is a holiday tradition in which the students of the 4th grade–the “seniors” of the Lower School–work with their teachers to write a musical. The play is their gift to the school community as we approach the winter holidays, and it often reflects themes that are being sounded at the school. This year, as we designed and are building the amazing new Winslow Natural Playground & Outdoor Learning Center? The Playground of Dreams.
I think events become cherished traditions because they remind us, in important ways, who we are. The mutual respect and reverent appreciation of difference that unfolds at Candlelight, the let’s-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously quality of Elf Day, the “from the mouths of babes” wisdom of Pageant…these are all what makes Harley, Harley.