On one anticipated Tuesday evening at Pensacola Christian College, it’s not an uncommon thing to find Varsity Terrace absolutely covered with an assortment of blankets, towels, and lawn chairs. Students, staff, faculty, and families in their merriest Christmas hats and ugliest Christmas sweaters have been saving their spot for one of their favorite campus events—the Christmas Lights Celebration!
While their audiences enjoyed hot or iced apple cider, hot chocolate, and pumpkin bread, several music groups along with Student Body officers Drew Fennell (Jr., OH) and Kelley Goforth (Sr., FL) presented “The Sounds of Christmas” all while pointing audiences to the birth of Christ. Even families and alumni at home enjoyed the sounds of sleigh rides, silver bells, and favorite Christmas carols during the concert’s first-ever livestream of the event!
Putting together the Christmas Lights Celebration is an endeavor all of its own, relying on the dedication of eighteen different departments over the course of the year. Stephen Spilger, who directs the Spirit Singers, worked with the singers to create a home-for-Christmas feeling for audiences. The Spirit Singers themselves were eager to perform during the concert, singing songs like “Sleigh Ride” and “Jingle Bells.” Freshman Liv Huckaby (NC) was excited to perform with the Spirit Singers during the concert. “[I] have never experienced Christmas Lights before, so I am looking forward to performing and watching the other performers when we’re backstage!” she said.
Once the Christmas Lights Celebration began, buildings and trees lit up with hundreds of strands of lights that had been slowly creeping across campus since October. Weekly maintenance crews had diligently checked each strand for broken bulbs and carefully wrapped each tree and shrub in anticipation for the Christmas season. “There [are] approximately 500,000 lights on campus this year. The campanile [oak] tree takes 60–70 man hours itself to light,” said Richard Greenwood, the zone technician foreman in Maintenance. “With the addition of Rice Tower, we also lit the front of Mullenix Chapel and the Rawson Building and added lights on the Rawson side of the Administration Building. This increased our area of coverage by about 20 percent over last year.”
Technical assistant Kayla Quito sequenced lively and vibrant light shows for the Christmas Lights Celebration and for the nightly shows that follow during the last weeks of the semester. “One of the most challenging, yet rewarding, aspects of my job is finding artistic and creative ways to make the lights communicate the message of each song. Details like effects layering and variety, color combinations, and time-intensive rhythmic elements must all be considered and explored,” she said.
Liz Thomason, the assistant production coordinator, researched and arranged staging for the concert. She’s been looking forward to sharing a little Christmas spirit with a student body that’s excited to be home for the holidays. “Everything you’ve ever expected when Christmas rolls around—the lights, the people, the food, the music, the sweaters—is packed into one forty-five-minute show,” she said. “Christmas Lights is that jolt of holiday energy that we all need this time of year.”
“My favorite part of Christmas Lights is the unity of the student body,” said Spirit Singer Caleb Gamonal (Jr., Peru). “I think most people would agree that Christmas is their favorite holiday, and to be able to enjoy the company for such a special event on campus is a really fun and unique experience.”
“[I love] seeing all the lights turn on and listening to the Christmas carols. They remind me of home,” said Philip Robinson (Jr., AR).
After a wonderful Christmas Lights Celebration, evenings on campus will be “merry and bright” with special Christmas lights shows as students continue counting down to spending the holidays with friends and family.