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Western welcomes annual holiday festivities

A look into the history of Western’s annual holiday tree lighting

Zoë Strickland | Managing Editor

On Friday, Dec. 1, the lights on the giant sequoia will be turned on for the 50th consecutive year.

Despite it being the 50th annual tree lighting, the first time the tree was adorned with lights wasn’t 50 years ago. In 1940, lights were put on the tree as a way of celebrating then-faculty member John Scott. However, the next time the Sequoia saw lights was Nov. 27, 1967.

The effort to bring the holiday spirit to Monmouth was student-run. An article from the Nov. 9, 1967 issue of The Monmouth Herald stated that it was the women of Todd Hall, a residence hall at the time, that kickstarted the process of incorporating holiday festivities; “Girls from Todd hall were present to get council approval for a project to light the sequoia tree on the OCE campus as a community Christmas Tree.”

A follow-up piece from Nov. 23 reported the council’s approval: “What has been billed as ‘The World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree’ will be lighted on the OCE campus on Monday evening. The tree, a 122 foot tall sequoia located in front of Campbell hall on the campus, will be lighted in a 7 p.m. ceremony.”

The sequoia that once stood at 122-feet is now estimated to be between 125 and 130-feet tall. “We may have to lengthen the top piece, the satellite, that the lights are attached to, to accommodate the growth of the tree,” said Kevin Hughes, Landscape Maintenance Coordinator.

Though the sequoia is no longer touted as the world’s largest Christmas tree, the tradition has persevered through tumultuous times. The tree was not available to comment on its dethroned title.

Over the years, the responsibility of planning the events has shifted. When originally proposed by a residence hall, students were in charge of coordinating the ceremonies. However, non-student run entities of the institution eventually took the reigns.

In 1992, the school was unsure if they had the funds to continue the tree lighting ceremony. As a result, the community banded together to continue the event.

“In response to Western’s pleas for help, the community will be picking up a lot of the financial burden of this holiday fixture, but not all of it. The Incidental Fee Committee recently met to discuss the options available to them … this year’s expenses are estimated at $6500 … to lessen the stress of this annual holiday expenditure, the Incidental Fee Committee began fundraising,” reported a 1992 article of the Western Star.

Western’s tree lighting tradition is one that members of the Western community look forward to, “Driving through campus at night when the tree is lit, trying to spot it on highway 99 while coming to work,” Hughes said when asked about his favorite thing about the tradition.

The best thing that students can do to keep this event going is showing their support, “Keep the excitement and process going. Generations are enjoying the celebration. It started out as a community event and it will continue to bring people back to our WOU campus. When we install the lights on the tree, I have a sigh of relief and know that in approx. 1 month, the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year celebrations will begin,” Hughes added.

This year’s events will kick off at 6 p.m. with a holiday parade that will head from Monmouth Library to the main drag of campus. The parade includes floats by different student groups around campus and Monmouth, as well as an appearance by Santa Claus. 7 p.m. is double booked with both a local school choir concert, and a wine and music gathering at Gentle House.

The Werner University Center will be open during the night, and will have indoor programs such as a holiday cookie bake-off, tree decorating contest, live music from KWOU and an area for people to get their photo taken with Santa.


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