Luxembourg native Felix Schadeck, CC ’15, was confused about some of his classmates’ choice of headwear on Thursday evening. “People are wearing red hats with white balls and I don’t know what that is,” he told his friends.
Santa hats were ubiquitous at Thursday night’s annual tree lighting ceremony, which brought together the deans and students of the four undergraduate schools and lit up College Walk with the spirit of the holidays.
Despite his unfamiliarity with the iconic Christmas symbol, Schadeck was moved by the huge turnout. “It’s the first time I’ve seen such a big crowd on campus,” he said.
For Columbia College Interim Dean James Valentini, the ceremony was also a new experience—this was the first tree lighting ceremony he attended. “I see the trees lit up every year,” he said. “I never really paid attention to when they started to be lit.”
“It’s particularly nice because it’s the first time I’ve been in a group with students from all four undergraduate colleges,” Valentini said. He described the event as a fun, low-key way to relax and spend time with others.
“It’s cool to see everyone from different religions and schools and ages … here to celebrate,” Miriam Aniel, GS/JTS ’15, said.
The ceremony featured performances from student a cappella groups and speeches by the deans of the four undergraduate colleges, who emphasized the importance of sharing in the festive holiday spirit with others.
“This is an evening to celebrate the strength this community has forged,” Peter Awn, dean of the School of General Studies, said.
Barnard College Dean Avis Hinkson stressed the importance of finding peace. “Pursue it with wild abandon,” she said.
Aniel said the speeches were inspiring. “I like how the deans talked about being thankful instead of different religions,” she said. “It’s a common bond of humanity.”
Despite the looming prospect of final exams—a fact that none of the deans failed to mention—the sense of community “reaffirmed that I’m happy to be here,” Aniel said.
The ceremony brought hundreds of students together on College Walk, which Valentini called “the avenue of our community.”
“This was the cherry on top of a wonderful first semester at Columbia,” Jared Odessky, CC ’15, CCSC first-year class president, and a Spectator opinion columnist, said.
Even those who attended the tree lighting ceremony in the past said the crowd impressed them. “I think it’s one of the more significant Columbia traditions,” Malida Tadesse, CC ’14, said.
Johanna Lou, CC ’12, agreed. “There’s a couple times during the year there’s really a Columbia community, and this is one of them,” she said.
Because he’s lived across the street from Columbia for half his life, this was not the first tree lighting ceremony for Conrad Tao, CC ’15. “I’ve lived in the area for nine years and this is my favorite Columbia tradition,” he said. “And it’s even better now that I’m a student here.”
School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora said that even though the tradition is 30 years old—relatively young by the standards for some Columbia traditions—he firmly believes that “this season has special meaning.”
It certainly held special meaning for Schadeck. “This is a great first Christmas experience,” he said.