Light Unites: Elon community celebrates winter traditions during Festival of Lights and Luminaries

Thousands of luminarias and lights illuminated Elon's campus during the community-favorite event.

Elon students taking a selfie during the annual Festival of Lights and Luminaries event on November 28, 2023.

The annual Festival of Lights and Luminaries celebration is one of Elon’s many iconic traditions. Its unique ability to connect the community to a variety of worldviews while providing strong symbolism of lights during dark times and providing a reprieve just ahead of finals makes it stand out as a premier Elon celebration.

This year’s Festival of Lights and Luminaries centered around the theme of “Light Unites” and with 16 stations located across campus recognizing “the diversity of our religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions, worldviews and identities,” the event lived up to that claim.

University Chaplain and Dean of Multifaith Engagement Rev. Kirstin Boswell said the annual tradition is a wonderful example of both the importance of community and Elon’s comprehensive approach to multifaith engagement.

“It is a fun and festive event for our students, faculty, staff, and friends to enjoy, but it also has additional significance in highlighting the importance of light in many of the world’s religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions,” Boswell said. “Despite some adverse weather during the day, and colder temperatures than anticipated, the event went well and I think it was a resounding success.”

University Chaplain Kirstin Boswell, left, and Interim Dean of Multifaith Engagement Hillary Zaken during the Elon University Festival of Lights, November 28, 2023.

Organized by The Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, thousands of lights and luminarias illuminated the campus on the frigid November night. The Elon community could visit 11 interactive tables stationed throughout the Historic Neighborhood to learn about the various traditions represented on Elon’s spiritually and ethically diverse campus. Along with the tables, the festival included the Winter Wonderland sponsored by the Department of World Languages and Cultures, which allowed the Elon community to make winter wreaths and enjoy cultural foods and treats.

Will Pinkley ’27 came away from the Festival of Lights and Luminaries with not only a winter wreath he plans to hang on the door of his door, but with a deeper appreciation for how Elon exposes its students to a wide range of traditions.

“It’s definitely important for me,” Pinkley said. “I’m a Jewish person from South Carolina, so getting to see both my culture celebrated here as well as everybody’s else culture, that’s really important to me.”

Hillary Zaken, interim assistant dean of multifaith engagement, said the idea that the whole campus community can come together around a single event centered on celebration, education and community is incredible. “I’ve been walking around the event … I’ve heard students say, ‘This is so amazing, I didn’t know it could be like this on campus,'” Zaken added. “Students are coming to a table and they’re saying, ‘I never thought of it that way.'”

Elon University Festival of Lights and Luminaries, November 28, 2023.

For Uli Schmidt ’27, a student of Asian and German descent, the festival was a perfect representation of Elon’s intentionality to make all in the community feel a sense of belonging.

“It feels really good that Elon is making an effort to showcase different cultures,” Schmidt said.

Ana Penaranda, a graduate student from Ecuador in the Innovation in Education M.Ed. program, said the Festival of Lights and Luminaries event was her first time actually on campus. The beauty of the luminarias along the brick walkways and the lights draped over trees made their impression on Penaranda. But what will stick with her most is how open-minded of a campus Elon is.

“It opens the door for everybody because it respects their culture and gives the sense that everybody is welcomed here,” Penaranda said.