‘Twas the night of Dec. 3, when all through the Seton Hall campus there was darkness and cold, crisp air. But not for long.
Around 5 p.m., students, faculty, staff, alumni and their families began to fill the Green, strolling around and lining up for Gourmet Dining Services’ hot cocoa, a soft Seton Hall blue Santa hat and a holiday photo with the Pirate in a blue Santa suit. Classic holiday songs echoed throughout campus and President’s Hall was painted with snowflake lights and soft blue hues.
Forty-five minutes later, as the Green filled with people on the cold snow and the sidewalks, emcees Robin Cunningham, Associate Vice President of Student Services and Dean of Freshman Studies, and Winston Roberts, Associate Dean of Students, walked on stage with loud energy, as they began the University’s 10th annual tree lighting ceremony.
“There’s no better time than the Christmas season for the community to come together,” Cunningham said.
The annual holiday tradition, which in years past has received recognition for “Best College in America for Holiday Events” several times, was started by former President Gabriel Esteban. Over the years, the event has expanded with more activities, fundraisers and community service and performances.
Roberts said in a previous story that a lot of work goes into organizing the event, with plans beginning as early as September. This includes working with the campus grounds crew on putting lights around the tree, writing scripts, getting performers and planning with a production company.
The performances began with a few songs, one in French, sung by the Immaculate Conception Schola Cantorum, followed by the Seton Notes, the gospel choir and the Sapphires who performed a special dance to “Feliz Navidad.”
Then, the Gentleman of the Hall, an all-male a cappella group that recently opened the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall in November, performed the Snow and Heat Miser songs from the movie “The Year Without a Santa Claus.” Adam Wirth sang the Snow Miser part while decked in a shiny silver suit while Joseph Walls battled him as Heat Miser in gold.
The performances concluded with the Seton Hall Pep Band and the University Choir.
Following a blessing of the tree by Campus Ministry Director Fr. Colin Kay, current President Joseph Nyre, who began his term at the University in August, spoke at his first-ever tree lighting as president.
“Now, good presidents know when to be brief and when to be long—I’ll be brief,” Nyre began, following a loud cheer from the audience.
“We know that Christmas at the Hall is more than carols and hot cocoa,” he continued. “We share our faith and we lend joy and help others—that’s who we are. We’re more than Pirates, we’re Seton Hall.”
Nyre invited his wife (or “First Lady”) Kelli and three of his children to light the tree with him. In addition, he invited Shawna Cooper-Gibson, Vice President for Student Services; Taylor Soloman, a senior in the Stillman School of Business; Alex Medina Sosa, a senior and Gen 1 student; and Christos Paizis, co-president of the Young Alumni Club.
After Nyre and the audience went through a 10-second countdown, him and the guests pulled the lever, and the 60-foot Norway Spruce glowed as 40,620 LED lights in reds, greens and blues lit the tree.
Students said they generally enjoyed the event and wish they could have attended every year, like Joseph Paul, a freshman biology major. In the past two years, Paul has not been able to attend the tree lighting due to prior commitments and class.
“It was interesting,” Paul said. “I thought it was really cool seeing so many people come and actually getting into the holiday spirit. It was really cold.”
And while the tree lighting happens just right before the week of final exams, Paul said he loved the fact that everyone “could just relax” before exams begin.
He noted that even though the University is a Catholic school and celebrates Christmas, religion does not matter at a time like this when everyone comes together.
“They [Seton Hall] are very welcome to the fact that if you’re not celebrating Christmas or whether or not you’re a religious person—that doesn’t really matter,” he said. “It’s just the lighting and having the community come together that’s more important.”
Ryan Woodhams, a sophomore business and criminal justice major, said he really enjoyed the event overall. “It was a nice relaxing opportunity to get to spend time with some of my favorite people and be a part of the school spirit that makes SHU such an exciting place to call myself a student,” Woodhams said.
Woodhams added that he suggests the ceremony be shorter, especially in the cold temperatures. “I think people got restless being out in the cold for so long,” he said. “You saw a lot of people, including the group of which I was a part, flocking to Jubilee in order to maintain a decent view but also begin to warm up a little.”
Other than that, Woodhams said, the event was terrific.
Liam Oakes can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @LM_Oakes.