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Annual Ceremony Promotes Holiday Spirit

Nov. 12, 2010
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt


The first tree used as part of the tree lighting ceremony still stands in the Evans Complex garden, located between the two complex buildings. This picture is from the 1930 Acalde.
In this 1940 aerial view of campus, the original "Tree of Light" is shown above (by the red dot) before the two Evans Complex buildings were constructed.
The traditional ceremony was moved to in front of the Old Main Building in 1966.
In 1980, the ceremony, using fresh-cut trees, was held in a large circular planter where the Blatchley Bell Tower is now located. The photo above was taken in 1987.

Each December, the holiday spirit spreads across the university as members of the Bearkat community gather around the "Tree of Light" to celebrate the season of giving.

Richly steeped in the history of Sam Houston State University, the ceremony has opened the Christmas season on campus for 89 years, beginning in 1921 when a large cedar “west of the Training school” was decorated for the first tree lighting ceremony.

This year’s 90th event will take place on Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. in Bearkat Plaza.

Although recognized in 1938 as a symbol of “unwavering courage in the face of discouragement, of cheerfulness that never frowns” by President Harry F. Estill for “bravely maintain(ing) its beauty throughout the year,” the tree that was first used was scheduled to be demolished twice as part of planned construction.

For undocumented reasons it was saved both times and still stands today in the Evans Complex garden, between the two buildings that make up the complex.

In 1966, university officials decided that the Evans Complex cedar tree was no longer visible enough, and the ceremony was moved to a large cedar in front of Old Main, where it was held for the next 14 years. This tree was a casualty to the fire that destroyed Old Main on Feb. 12, 1982.

Beginning in 1980, a new tradition that would last for more than two decades began, and the “Tree of Light” ceremony was moved to a large circular planter where the Bell Tower is now located. As part of the tradition, a large, fresh-cut tree was brought in to serve as the “Tree of Light.”

As construction began on the Bell Tower, the “Tree of Light” ceremony moved in 2004 to the Academic Building I Mall Area, on the east side of present-day Bearkat Plaza, where the ceremony was held for several years.

In 2005, real trees were replaced with an artificial tree in an act of preservation, which itself began to grow by adding a new base ring annually.

This year, when SHSU celebrates its 90th anniversary of the tradition in the “Tree of Light’s” current location in Bearkat Plaza, the tree will stand at 38 feet.

“The Tree of Light Ceremony is really a program at the ‘heart’ of what Sam Houston State University is all about, bringing Bearkats together,” said Brandon Cooper, assistant director for Student Activities. “It’s a program that the university has hosted for over three quarters of SHSU’s existence in an effort to bring students, faculty and staff and alumni together.

“As we celebrate the 90th year of tradition this year, we are still amazed at support and turnout we receive for this program," Cooper said. "It just grows every year.”

This year’s festivities will include remarks by university president Dana Gibson, performances by the Orange Pride dance team and university choir, and holiday snacks. In addition, 99.7 FM K-Star Country will broadcast live from the event.

To share the holiday spirit with those in need, the Student Activities Department will continue its 15-year tradition of collecting canned goods for a drive that will benefit an area organization.

Student Activities will also feature the history of the event during an exhibit in the Lowman Student Center Art Gallery Monday (Nov. 29) through Friday (Dec. 3).

"The Tree of Light is the university's oldest and most cherished tradition," said Student Activities associate director Angie Taylor. "This tree-lighting ceremony is also a time of giving and reminds students and the university community what the holiday season is all about."

For more information, call Student Activities at 936.294.3861.



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