Hundreds gathered on a chilly night Tuesday to celebrate the start of the holiday season and see the campus glow during the annual celebration.
Members of the Elon University family filled Scott Plaza in front of Alamance Building on a chilly night Tuesday to be warmed up by hot chocolate, cider, musical performances and the start of a holiday season filled with cheer.
The university’s annual Festival of Holiday Lights mixed sweets with sweet sounds and plenty of fellowship as the switch was flipped on thousands of festive lights strung throughout the heart of Elon’s campus. The twinkling lights in the trees complemented the hundreds of luminarias that lined the walkways between Alamance Building and Moseley Center and were adorned with the names of Elon supporters to honor their contributions to the university during the past year.
“We have a lot to do at this point in the semester, but for tonight, we celebrate light and joy!” said University Chaplain Jan Fuller to kick of the celebration. “We are surrounded by beautiful luminarias, some of them have your names on them. They remind us of beauty and hope, they raise our spirits and bring us together.”
Tuesday night’s celebration wasn’t just about the sights, but the sounds, with Elon musicians and performers delivering seasonal tunes to the crowd. Performing Tuesday the Elon Saxophone Quartet and a capella groups Sweet Signatures and Twisted Measure. Before the celebration officially got under way, Santa and Mrs. Claus posed for pictures and visited with children and their families in front of Duke Building.
The festival was an opportunity to learn about the significance that light plays in a variety of religious traditions, with Elon students speaking about upcoming celebrations by different faiths that feature light, and offering a prayer. Joining those gathered on Elon’s campus for the event were hundreds more tuning in online for a livestream of the celebration.
Maqueline Weiss ’22 and Melissa Horowitz ’20 explained to the crowd that in the Jewish tradition, burning candles are reminders of God’s presence in our lives, which is why they are integral to the upcoming eight-day Hanukkah celebration that features candles on a menorah.
“In this season of darkness, we recognize both God’s role and our own human efforts in bringing lights into the world with justice and righteousness,” Weiss said. “May our burning candles warm the candles of our souls.”
The Hindu celebration of Diwali takes place in late fall, and light is a common way to mark the holiday, with lights in homes, in trees and with sparklers and fireworks, explained Abhinav Nitesh ’20, an intern in the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. The festival takes its name from the row of clay lamps that Indians light outside their homes, lamps that symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness, Nitesh said.
“Diwali’s story is interpreted geographically, but all interpretations have one common threat that rings true — the festival marks the victory of good over evil,” Nitesh said. “The light signifies good, truth, abundance, prosperity and all good things because with the arrival of light, darkness disappears.”
Christians around the world are filling their homes with light as they prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, said Marjorie Ann Foster ’20. “The light signifies the coming of the Messiah into the world, a light in darkness, because we believe Jesus Chris is the light of God in the world,” Foster explained. “Christmas celebrations include lights, in our homes and trees, and with candlelight as we celebrate the birth of our hope and the fulfillment of our yearnings.”
While Muslims have no specific winter celebrations that include light, a core belief of the faith is that God is light, and the only real and true light, said Noor Irshaidat ’20. “God is the light of the heavens and earth,” Ishraidat told the crowd. “The allegory of God’s light is that of a pillar on which is a lamp. … God guides to God’s light whomever God wills.”
Later this week, Buddhists will celebrate Bodhi day, the day on which the Buddha gained enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi tree. According to Buddhist tradition, at that moment of enlightenment, a rainbow of light emanated from the Buddha’s body, said Julia Field ’20. “Buddhists decorate trees with clear white lights, as light is the source of goodness and comes from within all human beings,” Field said. “Light is knowledge, purity and morality, and it is the sun that avenges darkness and evil forces and brings life to all beings.”
Within the secular world, light is a common symbol of love, hope and promise, said Holly Miranda ’20. “Humans are drawn to light, to fire, to brilliant beauty,” Miranda said. “Light reminds us of optimism, intelligence, truth and good.”
With those lessons of light and faith delivered, Fuller led the crowd in a countdown to the lighting of the lights around campus, with the crowd first looking toward Moseley Center and cheering “Turn on the lights!” and then turning toward Alamance Building to deliver the same command.
With those shouts, the campus began to sparkle as the crowd cheered, fully prepared to celebrate another Elon holiday season.
Special thanks go to Kappa Delta, Sigma Pi, LEAF, the Senior Class Giving, SGA and student volunteers from the Truitt Center for placing the luminarias around campus on Tuesday. Thanks also to the Office of University Advancement and their student workers for labeling the luminarias, to Physical Plant for creating the magnificent light display and for Environmental Services for helping collect the luminarias after the celebration.