With the holiday season beginning to take form, there are many events and traditions those at WU and in Salem participate in. The most notable event was on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 1, when the Salem community came together to see the lighting of the Star Trees. Presented by the class of 1942, the Star Trees are a group of five sequoias planted to celebrate the University’s 100th anniversary. On the first Saturday of every December, the trees are brought to life with multi-colored LED string lights. The event is organized by the Office of the President and planning begins up to four months in advance, in order to collaborate with sponsors and University department.
According to the Office of the President, the tradition was started in 1997 to build a sense of community within the University and Salem.
“Maynard Drawson, a longtime Salem resident, and one of the founding members of the Oregon Heritage Tree committee, lobbied his friends and community supporters to light up the Star Trees to bring together the community around these trees,” said the President’s Office. “Among those friends were Dick and Linda Carney. Dick is an alumnus and longtime supporter of Willamette. Dick and Linda went on to support the lighting of the Star Trees in subsequent years.”
The annual event paused in 2014 in order to allow the trees to remain healthy. The cables necessary for the lighting were beginning to put stress on the trees and the grounds crew was worried about the damage that may occur during a winter storm.
“The hiatus was intended to give the trees a respite and time to recover,” said the President’s Office.
In 2017, the lighting event continued to coincide with the University’s 175th anniversary. The President’s Office said it will continue to monitor the health of the trees before making a decision about lighting the trees each year.
It is estimated that around 200 to 300 people attending the lighting event each year, according to the President’s Office. The event this year consisted of a holiday dinner that took place at Goudy Commons, followed by a performance from the Holiday Choir. The fraternity Beta Theta Pi served hot chocolate, cookies and s’mores. Clothing donations were also accepted by Beta Theta Pi. Karen Wood, the University Chaplain, spoke briefly before the lighting of the trees. Blitz the Bearcat, the University mascot, was the one to switch the lights on. He was accompanied by a countdown from 10. After the lighting of the trees, there was a performance by the University Wind Ensemble, University Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Collective that took place in Smith Auditorium.
Emma Pringle (‘19) attended the previous year’s Star Tree lighting.
“As crowded as it is, the Star Tree Lighting is pretty cool,” said Pringle. “My favorite part of the event is when the trees are finally lit and you get to see them against the night sky.”
There are many other holiday traditions that take place around campus, both within smaller groups as well as University-wide. Pringle has also participated in these events.
“I participate in the gift exchange at the library and I help my friends make cookies,” said Pringle.
Other holiday events include Christmas In Hudson Hall, which is presented by the Music Department and includes performances from the Male Ensemble Willamette, Voce Femminile and the Willamette Chamber Choir. This concert is on Dec. 6 and 7. There is also Christmas Unplugged with John Doan. This event took place on Sunday, Dec. 2 in the Mary Stuart Music Center. The intention for these events is to pause from the rush and hustle-bustle of the holiday season and to appreciate and come to understand the true spirit of the holidays celebrated.