Christmas Tree Lighting a Tradition, Celebration of the Season

Published on Thu, November 29, 2012

On Wednesday, December 5, at 4 p.m., the Marywood community will gather to kickoff the start of the holiday season at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The tradition of Marywood's Christmas tree lighting had humble beginnings.

During the days when the Motherhouse stood magnificently on the grounds of Marywood's campus, the shrubs in front of the great building were decoratively lit, as were the juniper bushes in front of the Rotunda, but, at that point, there was no specific campus tree lighting.

A huge blaze destroyed the Motherhouse on February 22, 1971. When the Christmas season arrived later that year, a decision was made to decorate a live, planted evergreen tree that was growing in the area behind where the monumental building once stood.

John Burns, who supervised Marywood's grounds for more than 30 years, noted that this was the time when a tree lighting ceremony began. For five or six more years, near the site of what is now the Memorial Commons, the same live, planted evergreen was strewn with lights for each Christmas season.

For the next several years, a tree from the campus was cut and placed in the middle of the Commons where it was decorated and lit during the traditional ceremony. This practice continued until 1981.

In 1982, the tree and the lighting ceremony were moved indoors to the center of the Rotunda. At this point, an evergreen from the campus was still selected as the Christmas tree. After a few years, however, it was decided that to preserve the aesthetics and natural beauty of Marywood's setting, no more campus trees could be selected, according to Mark Burns (John's son), who currently serves as superintendent of grounds and has been with the Marywood Grounds crew since the early 1980s.

Since that time, Marywood has obtained trees that are commercially grown and harvested specifically for the Christmas season. These trees are a renewable resource and are recycled after the holiday season ends. The tree is chosen just before Thanksgiving.

It takes eight men to set up the giant tree, which is typically delivered on the Friday prior to the lighting ceremony. The tree lighting takes place near the Feast of the Immaculate Conception -- the feast day of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the congregation that sponsors Marywood University.

The trees are always Douglas Firs because this hearty variety lasts the longest in the Rotunda's warm environment, which is usually 70 to 74 degrees. The 20-foot tree boasts approximately 3,200 energy-conserving LED lights. In Marywood's continuing effort to implement environmentally friendly practices, the University consumes 80 percent less electricity by using LED lights over traditional lights. Several gallons of water are required to replenish and nourish the tree each day.

A few test lighting sessions are held prior to the event to ensure a flawless illumination when the President flips the switch. The event, which draws tremendous community support, is accompanied by prayer, ornament presentations, holiday choral entertainment and light refreshments. The entire Marywood community—as well as members of the general public—are invited to the grand Rotunda each year to share in this special, joyous tradition of the holiday season.