Bob Jones University’s annual Lighting Ceremony is a long-held tradition, one that is over thirty years in the making. Every Christmas season, the University adds new events and surprises as a way of giving back to the student body and the community. This year, the ceremony will be taking place on Friday, Nov. 30. Everyone is welcome for a day of joyful festivities that is guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit! (Here’s a schedule of everything going on this year.)
Celebrating the Students
“The Tree Lighting Ceremony was around for a long time before I got here,” events management director Pam Cushman informed. “We try to make the whole day a student appreciation day, culminating in the carol singing.
“In the morning, we start off with cookies and hot chocolate on the way to class. Then we have an ugly sweater contest, and of course, there’s the Secret Santa gift exchange. The Dining Common is going to have a contest for decorating cookies; the winners of which will get Bruins Bucks. The snow globe will be out there for students to get photos. Chapel is special that day. Then, when we roll into the afternoon activities, then we’re gearing up for community activities that students help us run, as well as the carol singing.
“It’s a whole day full of Christmas fun. Oh, it’s so much fun. It’s a great time for us to do a Christmas Appreciation Day because there’s just so much to do around Christmas. It’s a time for the community to come to the campus and get to know who we are. It’s family time when we’re celebrating the birth of our Lord.”
If you’re a student, there are numerous ways to get involved, from volunteering to read Christmas stories to children to participating in the multiple contests available on campus. There will even be food trucks available as an alternative to the Dining Common.
Uniting the Community
For families who are visiting, the campus will be jam-packed with activities for kids to enjoy. Face art, cookie decorating, even storytelling—there is something for every child to enjoy. All these events will be open from 4–6:30 p.m. in what is called the “Christmas Village.”
However, this year, there is a new addition: the Christmas Bazaar. The second floor of the Student Center will be a bustling market full of local artisans’ crafts: a perfect opportunity to buy unique and special gifts for loved ones.
“We’ve added the Christmas Bazaar and a few more children’s things out there because as our homecoming U.Day grows in number, we think the community will be looking for a safe place for families to do Christmas,” Cushman asserted. “This is a way to give back to the community and all that they’ve done for us as long as we’ve been in Greenville.”
Enjoying the Ceremony
The carol singing will start at 6:30 in front of Rodeheaver Auditorium. Southside Christian High School will be joining the University singers for the caroling which will be led by Dr. David Parker—donning a Santa hat, of course. Dr. Pettit will read a Christmas story to the crowd and give a short challenge. There will also be greetings from missionaries around the world and artificial snow to add to the atmosphere.
“Somewhere in there, we’ll be singing a bluegrass Jingle Bells number,” Cushman added. “When that’s over, the Alumni hosts Giving Tree. You don’t have to give, but they’re accepting donations for Camp Anchorage in North Carolina. A lot of it got destroyed by the flooding of the hurricane. It’s a big night, with a lot of stuff.”
The most anticipated part of the night, though, is the Lighting Ceremony. Every year, someone special pulls the lever to turn on the lights. Last year, it was Helen-Ling Wallen, who was recently awarded a President’s Club Award. This year, it’s Mayor pro tempore, Amy Ryberg Doyle.
Decorating the Campus
However, the thousands of tiny bulbs that illuminate the campus in a flurry of twinkling lights is not just a pretty sight. As Brandon Johnson, graduate assistant with Grounds Maintenance, can attest, “It’s a really long and frustrating process.
“This year, we got to set it all up a little bit early. There used to be an interior design committee that would hand make bows and wreaths every year. We’d start prepping in the summer all the way until Christmas and then into the spring, pack up, and then start it all over again the following summer. Now, we start in mid-October. This year we got approval to put up the green [garlands] early—we normally do it all [the week after Thanksgiving]. We were in rain suits [this year], too.”
That means that every single string of Christmas lights that you see on campus was put up (and tested) by Johnson and his crew. “We don’t know the official count yet, but it’s a lot. Mainly what we deal with is the lighting part: is it going to work when we hit the switch? It used to be that every single light post on the campus would be decorated and the trees down East and West Drive all had to be lighted. It was intense. It looked amazing, but it was intense and took too much time. One year, we had over a million lights on campus.”
Though, he warns, something does tend to go wrong every year: it’s part of the tradition. In last year’s ceremony, one of the snow machines broke so that only one side of the campus (the boys’ side, no less) got to experience snowfall. Oh, and some students came close to lighting the nativity scene (sculpted by alumnus Doug Young) on fire.
The resulting display of lights, though, combined with the many activities on campus, creates a festive atmosphere for everyone on campus. Come see for yourself this Friday, Nov. 30, and witness a community brought together by caroling, games and a shared love of Jesus Christ. (And if you can’t come in person, catch our live webcast of the lighting!)
Check out all of the fun had at last year’s Christmas Celebration and Lighting Ceremony.