Elon tradition continues with reimagined Festival of Holiday Lights

The Festival of Holiday Lights ushered in the holiday season and allowed the campus community to share and celebrate the many cultures that make up the Elon family.

Thousands of luminaries lined the paths of the historic center of campus as members of the Elon community gathered to continue a special campus tradition on Tuesday night.

The university’s annual Festival of Holiday Lights welcomed thousands of people to the heart of campus for a reimagined version of the celebration meant to usher in the holiday season and celebrate the traditions and cultures that make up the campus community. The 2020 festival underwent several adjustments to ensure a safe, physically distanced and fun evening for those in attendance. Typically held in December, the event was moved forward in the calendar since students will conclude in-person classes before Thanksgiving and then take exams remotely

More than 2,000 luminaries line the paths of Historic Campus on Tuesday night. (photo by Kim Walker)

“It’s been exciting to do it differently,” said University Chaplain Jan Fuller. “To see all of the possibilities that are in front of us feels like a metaphor that life isn’t shutting down, we’re all moving forward into infinite possibilities and this reminds me of that tonight.”

Instead of the typical gathering of the entire community in Scott Plaza, the festival featured seven stations across Historic Neighborhood and Lambert Academic Village. Students, faculty, staff and families walked along paths lined with 2,700 luminaries, each donning the name of a generous Elon donor. Each year, the luminaries serve as a show of gratitude to those who give to the university, while providing a beautiful sight for all who attend the Festival of Holiday Lights.

“We wanted people to stroll through the campus and feel the peace that will carry us to the end of the term,” Fuller said.

As community members walked the illuminated paths on Tuesday, they encountered seven stations focused on the light and enlightenment in the traditions and practices in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Black and African American communities, secular identities, and LGBTQ+ communities. Each station featured interactive presentations about a variety of holiday traditions and offered new perspectives on light, hope, peace and celebration across cultures.

Students light sparklers during an activity at the Diwali Light station during Tuesday’s Festival of Holiday Lights.

Attendees lit sparklers at the Diwali station, listened to Christmas carols at the Christian Light station, heard a lecture and took home Black-made products at the Kwanzaa station and heard music at the Jewish Light station. These activities represented just some of what Tuesday’s festival offered to promote understanding and appreciation of cultures from around the world.

“I am so excited just to see everyone come together,” said Caroline DiGrande ‘23, an interfaith intern in the Truitt Center for Religious & Spiritual Life, who helped organize the festival. “This is one of the only times during this unconventional semester that we get to come together as a community at Elon. I’m just really happy that we can still have this tradition.”

Historic Neighborhood and Lambert Academic Village were lined with luminaries donning the names of generous Elon donors. (photo by Kim Walker)

The Festival of Holiday Lights was made successful through the collaboration of a number of campus organizations including the Truitt Center, the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education; Kappa Delta, LEAF, Catholic Campus Ministry, Hillel, EMPRESS, Iron Tree Blooming, Spirit & Pride, the Office of Sustainability and Elon Muslim Society.

While this year’s festival was presented as more of a walking experience than a single gathering outside Alamance Building, it still provided the opportunity to celebrate the many cultures represented at Elon. Organizers hope this year’s festival brought light and joy to the campus community during such a challenging time.

“This is very rewarding because this is such a big tradition for the Elon community, and the fact that we’re able to be here on campus and have this at all is such a big blessing,” said Katie Norman ’23, another interfaith intern who helped organize the reimagined event. “I hope it gives people a sense of comfort and community and normalcy.”