With a seasonal chill in the air, the weather may have been the slightest bit frightful, but for this year’s Christmas Lights Celebration, audiences were in for a delightful evening of music, lights, and surprises!
The return of this favorite traditional event meant that blankets, towels, and lawn chairs had once again hastily covered Main Drive and the Varsity Terrace. The sweet scents of apple cider, hot chocolate, and pumpkin bread wafted over the crowd from Concessions. Loud, excited chatter and Christmas music from the Symphonic Band filled the air as the countdown to the special show crept closer and closer. As the first of many Christmas carols began, over 350,000 lights strung across campus lit up, welcoming the Christmas season to Pensacola Christian College.
Dr. Troy Shoemaker, president of the College, thanked those who attended in person and who tuned in to the livestream for joining. “You’re going to enjoy a beautiful evening of music and lights as we celebrate our Savior’s birth—God’s perfect gift to each one of us, and by Whom we can come to know Him,” he said.
The show included several special surprises! Emmet Cahill, “Ireland’s most exciting young tenor,” and his acclaimed accompanist, Seamus Brett, returned to campus to perform during Christmas Lights Celebration. After being postponed due to the travel ban last year, the pair had finally been able to come to Pensacola for Fine Arts this past October. And before Symphonic Band’s “Celtic Carol,” A Christmas Carol’s Charles Dickens greeted audiences and introduced the special appearances of the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Cahill, who is in the middle of his Christmas tour in the U.S., was thrilled to have the opportunity to revisit campus. “I have been so excited to come back and see you guys. I can’t tell you how much fun I had when I visited you here for your Fine Arts program. I feel like I’m the adopted Irish man here at Pensacola Christian College,” Cahill said during the show. “This is just so, so special to be with you guys, especially at this time of year. It really is such a joy to see the campus, to see the lights, and now I’m most definitely in the Christmas mood.”
Since the conclusion of last year’s virtual event, careful planning from 18 departments went into making this year the best that it could be! It included completely new LED sets for the light show, a new stage set, and several groups of singers.
“This year, because of the variety of groups involved, there was some intricate behind-the-scenes work with handing off microphones as groups transitioned on and off stage,” said Dr. Jonathan McIntyre, who directed the Spirit Singers. “For the sound technicians to deliver a great mix, it was vital that participants hand off their microphone to the right person. We held a rehearsal devoted just to that element of the show.”
Spirit Singer Carolyn Soule (Sr., FL) was most excited to sing “The Bells,” one of the new songs featured in the show. “This song encourages us to ‘never stop listening to the bells that are there to remind us Jesus has come’ and embodies what has been realized in my life this season—that God is alive and everything in life is pointing to Him,” she said.
Megan Smith (So., GA), who sang with the Chamber Ensemble, was glad to be part of a tradition that brings happiness and cheer to the student body. “It was really cool. I got to see it from a different perspective,” she said. “Who doesn’t love the Christmas season? It’s a different time of year when everyone comes together. It’s a joyful time to have, and that sticks with people.”
Kayla Quito, technical assistant, sequenced the shows featured on the LED sets. She considered color palette, story elements, and whether a musical feature could be highlighted or mimicked with the lights. “Preparing sequences with a guest artist in mind who would be emceeing and singing with very little on-site practice time created the unique challenge of finding ways to keep the sequences flexible, interesting, and beautiful without overshadowing the artist,” she said. “My hope is that Christmas Lights was a refreshing source of normalcy and nostalgia for the upperclassmen and a source of delight and surprise for those who have never experienced a real Christmas Lights show.”
This Christmas Lights Celebration was a first-time experience for both freshman and sophomore students. “I think [Christmas Lights Celebration was] cool because the College goes above and beyond,” said Cassia Barker (So., MI). “They do so much to make it cool.”
“I love so much of what we do here at school,” said Lucas Kirkland (So., NC). “It’s the Christmas season. [Christmas Lights Celebration is] an opportunity for us to get together, celebrate Christ’s birth, and look at this place; it’s glorious with all the lights. It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s a great time.”
With only a few weeks left before Christmas break, students are looking forward to embracing the holiday season and its significance with their families. “This Christmas season, I hope each student feels inspired with the freedom to worship Christ boldly through the knowledge of God’s uninhibited love for them, no matter what those around them do or say,” said Carolyn Soule. “Let us never hold back the love we can share with others when we have been given everything in Christ.”