Community members and Valparaiso University students waited in the darkness, their eyes fixed on the field in front of the Harre Union building on campus. With bated breath they counted down, huddled together in the dark winter night. Then, with a flash, the whole lawn suddenly became illuminated by the towering Christmas tree, inspiring all to join in Christmas songs and festivities.
Kristen Knoerzer, Valparaiso University spokesperson, said this is the 7th year the university has hosted the Valparaiso University Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony, and it’s already become a beloved tradition for students and families alike.
“This was started to bring the campus and community together,” Knoerzer said. “It’s also a great way to kick off a special time of year and it’s a nice way to bring everyone together. It’s been growing and changing over the years, and while it’s a fairly new tradition, it’s come to be expected.”
Valparaiso University President Mark Heckler gave a speech before the big moment, following the history of the first Christmas tree centuries ago, and the origin of the season: the birth of Jesus Christ.
“It’s the season of advent, which begins this Sunday,” Heckler said. “It’s the season of getting ready, getting prepared for the birth of the Christ Child. It’s a time for reflection, and I think it’s important, especially with all of the craziness and busyness and the commercialism that gets associated with Christmas… And so taking some time before we get into the celebration to think about what it all means is really important.”
Following the tree lighting was a booming fireworks display, followed by family activities in Harre Union such as hot chocolate, snacks, cookie decorating, pictures with Santa and a holiday-themed photo booth.
Valparaiso University is a second home to students throughout the country and the world, and Knoerzer is glad that this event can light up the holidays for those far from home.
“It helps in this time of year because people may feel homesick, so they can get a little bit of that warm, family feeling here,” Knoerzer said. “We also have international students who are able to learn about our traditions here. It sounds corny, but we are a family here at Valpo University.”
For Elizabeth Mack, a senior Nursing major, the University is a home away from her home in Illinois.
“It’s one of the things I look forward to every year,” Mack said. “Watching the tree get lit and the fireworks, I think it’s all so beautiful.”
Grant Murphy, a 3rd year Law student, enjoys the meshing of the town and his place of study.
“I love it,” Murphy said. “It builds the community bond throughout the campus. My favorite part is seeing everyone when they step outside and see the tree.”
When Valparaiso University President Mark Heckler looks at the Christmas tree on his campus, he sees something beyond Yuletide tradition. Every tiny light on the tree represents to him all of the people that make up the university and community, coming together to shine into the darkness.
“Of course, at Valpo you always think of the motto of this place, ‘And by light, we see light;’ In luce, tua videmus lucem,” Heckler said. “And what we mean when we say that, when we talk about the light of this place and the light that’s in each one of you, and how individually, maybe that light’s not very bright, but you put them all together, a thousand some people out here- and that light changes the world in fundamental ways. There’s 60,000 of you who have graduated from this place and have gone out into the world. Your stories are inspirational, because you go out and you really do commit your lives for the sake of the world and you make something special out of what God has given to you.”
For more info on Valparaiso University, please visit https://www.valpo.edu/