It was a dark and chilly evening last December when BJU choirs were singing in front of Rodeheaver Auditorium. The South Carolina snow was in puddles, and alumni and students were in huddles around the Bridge of Nations glorious.
Then, upon the high note of “Oh, Holy Night,” Amy Doyle. the current Greenville Mayor Pro Tem—with a flip of the candy cane switch—gave power to BJU’s 2018 Christmas lights! When students get back from Thanksgiving break, the last stretch of the semester can feel daunting to some. One way that BJU tries to raise the morale of its student body is by giving the students a day of Christmas cheer.
BJU’s Christmas Celebration will be held on campus on Dec. 6 from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. with the pinnacle of the festivities being the carol sing and lighting ceremony at 6:30 p.m.
Along with some BJU choirs, both Bob Jones Academy’s high school choir and Shannon Forrest Christian School’s choir will be singing before the ceremony in a pre-concert performance in front of Rodeheaver Auditorium.
Dr. David Parker of BJU’s Division of Music will lead the singing for the carol sing. Parker said the 2019 lighting ceremony will be almost the same as 2018’s ceremony. The main difference about this year’s event is that the song “Oh, Holy Night,” which traditionally is sung by a soloist or choir to usher in the lights for BJU’s Christmas season, will be sung by the audience.
Parker is returning to lead the event’s singing for 2019 carol sing. He has led the event’s singing off and on since the 1990s. Another person who is an instrumental part of the lighting ceremony is Dr. Ken Renfrow of BJU’s Division of Music. Renfrow will play the keyboard for the ceremony as he has done for many years.
Other activities on Friday include the Christmas village, a collection of holiday activities leading up to the lighting ceremony. It will take over most of the front side of campus. Festivities include photo spots, such as the giant snow globe on the sidewalk behind War Memorial Chapel and a sleigh located on the front lawn between security booths.
Children can participate in activities including face painting, cookie decorating and reindeer games run by Bruin athletes. Junior high and high school students can participate in the Yeti Games.
Some other activities include the Christmas Radio Show in The Den, produced by the journalism and mass communication department, the Grinch Gift Exchange and the Merry and Bright Christmas Tree Decorating Competition. To view a full schedule of all the events with times, go to www.bju.edu/events/christmas-lighting.php.
So why did Bob Jones University start doing the lighting ceremony in the first place? “It’s almost like it’s tradition, it’s been here for so long,” Pam Cushman, director of events management, said.
To be exact, Bob Jones University began putting on the lighting ceremony 29 years ago, on Dec. 1, 1990. Many of Bob Jones University’s current students were not even alive, but their parents were, and they would have experienced the very first lighting ceremony if they were students at BJU.
According to The Collegian’s Dec. 6, 1990, edition, the event featured singing led by Dr. Gustafson, which was accompanied by a brass ensemble, and Dr. Bob Jones III, the president of BJU at the time, who read the story of Christ’s birth. The event boasted of 50,000 Christmas lights that were illuminated with the flip of a giant switch.
Dr. Bob Jones III, currently the chancellor of BJU, recounted what it was like to be BJU’s president at the time of its first lighting ceremony. “I remember how happy I was [that] it turned out so well; the crowd was so good,” said Jones. “It’s just an amorphous good feeling.”
BJU’s campus has changed substantially in 29 years, with three different presidents, new buildings, building projects, accreditations, new ministries and new students every year. But Christmas is a nostalgic time where people can always come together to enjoy a hot drink, some Christmas carols and, especially, Christmas lights.