In honor of today’s Tree Lighting Ceremony, Bwog historian Mia Lindheimer takes a look at the history of students congregating on College Walk to ring in the holidays with hot cider, cocoa, and boring speeches.
The very first Tree Lighting Ceremony took place only 18 years ago, in 1998 (that is, this year is the 18th Annual Tree Lighting). That’s not such a throwback – next year’s incoming class will be full of kids born that year – but there’s been a lot of tradition packed into those 18 holiday seasons.
To give you some context, here’s the lay of the land in 1998:
- Lerner’s being built
- The Monica Lewinsky scandal
- The final episode of Seinfeld airs
- Google is founded
- Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets is published
The original goal of the Tree Lighting Ceremony, started by the class of 2000, was to promote community on campus. According to Charles Saliba, Junior Class president at the time, the lights were paid for from a fund dedicated to the beautification of the Columbia campus, which was mostly made up of the fees the University charges film crews to film on campus.
Following that first year, the Tree Lighting became less of a big deal, meriting a few photo ops but not many interesting twists.
Last year, however, in the aftermath of Ferguson, students staged a die-in at the tree lighting, protesting the the rulings in both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. While the tree lighting is normally a spectacle of holiday cheer, protesters reminded us that last year, many black students did not feel safe venturing outside, even as people around them were getting into the holiday spirit.
As the tree lighting rolls around again this year, we’re expecting additional protests and demonstrations throughout the season – issues such as student safety are flaring up again this year, and we’re hopeful that some real change will happen at Columbia soon. Real change – that would definitely be a reason for us all to get a little more festive.
Some seriously lit foliage via Spec & Bwog