It’s 2 o’clock! As the campanile’s Westminster chime began, students waiting on both sides of Varsity Terrace rushed forward. Blankets, towels, and pillows quickly covered and divided up the sidewalk and terrace steps, Christmas music playing from loudspeakers nearby. This has been a memorable outdoor experience many students have participated in for over 20 years—it’s time for Christmas Lights Celebration!
Christmas in the Air
This year’s concert, a long-time favorite and traditional event at Pensacola Christian College, had a few alterations. Because of rain, Christmas Lights Celebration had been postponed to Thursday, December 1, coinciding with appropriately brisk weather perfect for the festive evening. And rather than a holiday dinner box, students were offered the option to take prepared selections to-go from the dining halls to enjoy with friends outside. Regardless of these changes, everyone embraced the homey feelings shared throughout the event.
“There’s always something special about getting together to sing about Christmas,” said Estevão Gonçalves (Sr., Brazil), the soloist who sang “Rejoice” with Chamber Ensemble during the concert. “Christmas Lights is a relaxing and entertaining moment where we can come together in unity, not only among the student body, but with the whole community, reflecting on the birth of Christ.”
“There’s always something special about getting together to sing about Christmas.”
Preparation for the concert begins nearly a year in advance and takes the combined efforts of 18 separate departments. For the last few years, each light show has been programmed and sequenced by Kayla Quito, technical assistant. Before working on a show, she’ll immerse herself in the message of the song and take notes on how to represent it through the lights and colors. “It’s always wonderful to see the joy and the smiles that the lights bring to students, staff, and their families,” she said. This year, there are 17 new or edited sequences prepared for the Christmas Lights Celebration and the nightly shows that follow in the final days of the semester. “It’s a privilege to have such a big part of kicking off the Christmas season on campus.”
Sharing Joy with the World
Before the show, students took advantage of seasonal concessions such as pumpkin bread, apple cider, and hot chocolate, with many receiving a free seat cushion to use as they enjoyed the concert. Once settled into their claimed spaces between the Dale Horton Auditorium (DHA) and Varsity, audiences enjoyed Christmas favorites from the Symphonic Band before the countdown to the show began. Students have seen Voices of PCC perform in Student Body meetings, but those tuning in to this livestreamed event saw their debut. After Matthew McIntyre (Graduate Assistant) welcomed those present, he and the group sang “Christmastime,” a new song featured in this year’s concert.
Each participating student anticipated performing for those on campus and who tuned in to the livestream. Crystal Solomon (Sr., FL) was excited to share all of the prepared songs, but three were special to her. “‘Rejoice’ has such an encouraging message that reminds us all of why we celebrate Christmas,” she explained. “‘Winter Medley’ features some Christmas favorites that I am positive the audience will enjoy singing along to. And ‘Little Town’ is not your average Christmas carol; this unique sound will engage the audience and surely excite them for Christmas.”
“Christmas Lights is like the kick start to Christmas and all the happiness that comes with it.”
Each music group worked with music faculty and graduate assistants since September to prepare for the special concert. “At PCC, we are privileged to work with faculty and staff that are friendly and caring, and students that are loving and encouraging,” shared Paul Niu (Sr., Northern Mariana Islands). “Personally, it has been a blast this semester prepping for Christmas Lights. Everyone worked so hard for this show.”
During the show, Symphonic Band performed a special Polar Express medley as administration and student leaders handed out candy to attendees. Between special song arrangements, audience members were encouraged to participate in traditional Christmas song sing-alongs as the lyrics were projected above on the DHA. “Christmas Lights is like the kick start to Christmas and all the happiness that comes with it,” said Elli Berglund (Sr., FL), who sang with Voices of PCC. “I hope other students are affected the same way I have been—reminded of the presence of Christ—and are given a dose of good old-fashioned Christmas cheer!”
A Little Christmas Now
Christmas Lights Celebration is well loved by many who attend the show, even long after graduation. Over the years, the event has only grown, allowing all to celebrate the season with friends before going home for the holidays. “It’s a uniquely PCC thing, and plugging in the lights to this whole place is something that looks really special,” said Benjamin Bostwick (Sr., FL). “Putting up the displays, trying to make them different but also classic— That’s something that’s endured; it’s a tradition. I think it’s something that links the different generations of PCC.”
Lyndsey Zell (So., PA) enjoyed spending the event with her friends, laughing together and singing along with the songs. “When they lit up campus, it brought so much joy,” she said. “Christmas is coming, and everybody’s really excited to be on break and be with their families. And the lights bring that little extra bit of home back. I love it. Honestly, it’s probably one of my favorite events. I love it so much.”
“Cherish this time with friends, and to live in the moment.”
As a senior studying mechanical engineering, Stephen Seel (IN) was impressed with the work behind setting up and designing the Christmas Lights Celebration light show. “Knowing the hours that they put into arranging all the lights, all the sequences of the trees and stars that go on according to the music, I really appreciated that,” he said. The sentiment behind the concert is unmistakable as well. “I think Christmas Lights is a good event that is away from all the classes and all the responsibilities. It’s something that almost everyone on campus can get together and spend time either with friends or family or loved ones. And it’s one last thing right before going into final exams. We’re able to take a little bit of a break and just enjoy everyone’s company.”
From the rush to claim a space, to the available concessions and the show itself, the night is only one of the many campus events put on to bring students together, building enduring friendships in the process. “Cherish this time with friends, and to live in the moment. Take advantage of opportunities like this to make memories together,” Elli Berglund encouraged. “Live life to its fullest, love deeply, and rely on Christ through every step.”