Lighting Ceremony & Carol Sing: 30 Years of Cheer

by   |   kallweil@bju.edu   |  
Christmas Lighting Ceremony & Carol Sing

BJU’s Christmas Lighting Ceremony and Carol Sing has evolved since the inaugural event in 1989. It was such a success that the university administration decided to have another the following year and to “make a big … festive thing out of it,” says Dr. David Parker of the music faculty, who has led the BJU community through nearly 20 carol sings.

Caroling, caroling, now we go

The second lighting ceremony was paired with an open house. The Greenville community was invited for campus tours, to view Christmas decorations and, of course, the carol sing and lighting of 50,000 lights. University President Dr. Bob Jones III set the precedent for Scripture reading by reading from John 1. The audience was led in the carol sing by Dr. Dwight Gustafson and accompanied by a brass ensemble.

While the core elements of the lighting ceremony have not changed, the event has grown in its festivity. The lights still come on at the climax of “O Holy Night.” The university president still reads Scripture, and the event is still only 30 minutes long. But instead of a brass ensemble, community carolers are accompanied by the freshmen University Singers. Instead of 50,000 lights, 120,000 white and multi-colored bulbs illuminate front campus. And now snow machines surprise the audience as they croon “Let It Snow.”

“For probably 20 years I’ve been asking for snow machines, and everybody looked at me like I was crazy,” Parker says.

Originally, the only event was the carol sing that led up to the illumination of campus during “O Holy Night.” Now, the carol sing and lighting are part of the Christmas Celebration for the community that begins at 3:30 p.m. and continues until 8 p.m. The Bob Jones Elementary School choir and the Shannon Forest High School choir will supply a festive soundtrack before the carol sing begins. The Christmas Celebration is guaranteed to make any grinch’s heart grow with activities such as cookie decorating, reindeer games, story readings and a holiday bazaar. Visit bju.edu/christmas to view the full schedule of activities.

New this year, first responders and their families can also visit the First Responder’s Tent for free hot chocolate and doughnuts as a special thank you for their service to our community.

Here we are as in olden days

BJU’s Greenville campus is not original in its Christmas festivity. In Cleveland, Tennessee, Bob Jones College hosted a Pre-Christmas Festival as part of its Artist Series; the first was held in 1939. The Festival included a Shakespearean play, a performance of Handel’s Messiah and other events in addition to caroling.

Sing we joyous, all together

The University’s Christmas Lighting Ceremony and Carol Sing has made world news. On Dec. 3, 2004, over 7,514 students, faculty, staff and community visitors broke the Guinness Book of World Records citation for the largest group of Christmas carolers. BJU held the record until Dec. 25, 2010, when 15,111 spectators at a charity soccer game in Seoul, South Korea, caroled past it.

Laughing all the way

Dr. David Parker leading the carol sing

Over the years, Parker has gathered some humorous anecdotes from the lighting ceremonies he has conducted, including:

“We had a missionary family at our church just a couple years ago (who had) a little boy. … (The mom) told me later that he ran up to her in the nursery (and said), ‘Mama, the Bob Jones Santa’s at this church!’ So, I guess I was the Bob Jones Santa.”

“I used to live on White Oak Avenue, which is alongside the school here. And I came out about 5 o’clock or something to come to the lighting ceremony early, and traffic was bumper to bumper on White Oak Avenue. And I (thought), ‘What’s going on?’ They let me come out … of my driveway, and I came over here. Didn’t think another thing of it—ever—because I was over here and had the lighting ceremony. Then I go home, and I’m watching the 11 o’clock news—and this shows you how long ago it was. In McAlister Square, a man had hijacked a bus at gunpoint and had taken the bus to this bank across from what used to be Liberty Life here on Wade Hampton. He was in the bank, and he was shooting out of the bank at policemen on Wade Hampton. They had shut down Wade Hampton, that’s what all the traffic was. But what was kind of comical about it was that on the 11 o’clock news, here’s the reporter standing there with the camera saying, ‘We hear Christmas carols in the background. This must be how people are handling the trauma of this time.’ We didn’t even know it was going on! We were just having the carol sing. They thought we were singing spontaneously because of this gun holdup.”

O come, let us adore Him

Since the beginning, the carol sing has been split into two parts: sacred and fun. For many years, the fun songs such as “Deck the Halls” and “Let It Snow” were sung first, followed by the reading of the Christmas story by the university president and the singing of sacred carols.

In 2017, Parker switched the order of songs to begin with the sacred carols. “People are more focused at the beginning of the carol sing, and we want the message in the sacred songs to be the primary focus of the evening,” says Pam Cushman, director of Events Management.

Just before “O Holy Night,” University President Dr. Steve Pettit reads the Christmas story. Through words sung many times, the BJU community has an opportunity to introduce those from the Greenville community to our Savior who came as a baby to save us from our sins and reconcile us to Himself. Visitors to campus are told of the true meaning of Christmas through the words of Scripture and the words of the songs.

See Also: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas Carols

For more information about the Christmas Lighting Ceremony and Carol Sing, visit bju.edu/christmas.

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