Annual campus-wide events, the Tree Lighting and Late Night Breakfast, encourage students to take a break from finals.
Christmas lights being turned on and a midnight meal are simple things. At Virginia Wesleyan University, they’re more than that. They’ve become bigger than that, something of importance.
Virginia Wesleyan runs the Tree Lighting and Late Night Breakfast every year. Repetition and memory have given these events a significance larger than they would otherwise have.
“I’ve been doing this since 2017. This is the last time I’ll be able to do it,” Chris Williams said, who is in his last semester at VWU.
Many students come to the events every single year, and these events are constants among the generally changing event schedule on campus.
“The benefit of having the traditions is that our students also get excited about it, because they remember freshman year,” said Sarah Guzzo, the director of Student Activities. “Now it’s senior year and this is the last time.”
To get students pumped and invested, the events include a healthy spirit of competition, according to Sarah Guzzo.
“Marlin Nation is very competition-based, so we use that to our advantage, and that definitely shows through on the 12 Days of Christmas,” Guzzo said.
The 12 Days of Christmas is a competition where different groups sing the song “The 12 Days of Christmas” to see who can be the loudest. The winning team wins money for their club or organization.
“Sigma Nu is already saying ‘we’re going to be outside of your office before 9 a.m. on Monday, because we want a specific day of Christmas,’” Guzzo said before the service took place later in the week.
The traditions are a fond memory for most people, with previous years being recognizable, but every year is different enough to be memorable.
“Last year, someone put a Santa hat on the John Wesley statue,” said Shelby Clinedinst, a recent graduate.
Guzzo recounted a fond memory of a time the Tree Lighting was rained out, and Jason Seward, Associate Vice President for Campus Life and Operational Management, lit the tree, broadcasting the event on video in the pouring rain.
Another benefit to traditions is familiar faces. Seward reads a poem and Guzzo gives a speech alongside the holiday staples of Santa and Mrs. Claus.
The people who play Santa and Mrs. Claus for the Tree Lighting, Paul and Carolyn Sheehan, have been working the Tree Lighting for about five years, in their estimation. The retired couple plays the Clauses year round.
“I like the fact that I can walk into a room any day, anywhere, and no matter what, people will smile,” Paul Sheehan said.
Carolyn Sheehan said that part of what she loved about the Tree Lighting, and playing Mrs. Claus in general, is being Mrs. Claus for students who might not have ever met a Claus before.
The Tree Lighting isn’t the only tradition, and it definitely isn’t the most popular. That honor goes to Late Night Breakfast, which generally happens on Reading Day as a celebration of the end of the semester. This year, however, it took place the day before reading day, Dec. 6.
Guzzo, who said that Late Night Breakfast is her personal favorite, estimated that the event draws about 500 students annually since she started working at the school five years ago.
According to Guzzo, it’s also the only event that people show up to on time. That’s mostly for the french toast, she said.
“For Late Night Breakfast, people come early and they line up, and the line is always down to the Grille,” Guzzo said.
She said the event is popular because people want to celebrate the end of classes, unwind and take a break from studying. Students also enjoy being served their food by faculty and staff who aren’t usually behind the counter.
“I really think that everyone just turns off their stress for that quick two hour time period,” Guzzo said. “It just shows everyone coming together and celebrating the end of a semester.”
The draw of the events is that they’re simple and nostalgic. They’re easy to get into, whether it’s the competition, or the food or the community.
“It sounds like a really simple event, and it is,” Guzzo said. “But the reason why it’s so fun is because everybody is so excited to be a part of the tradition.”