ANNA KOVACEVICH/THE HOYA

In a 1963 issue of The Hoya, the editorial board shared its Christmas wish for both the university and the nation: “Let us make this Christmas the turning point, the time between two eras, an interregnum which commemorates the glory that has been and pledges itself to renew the world in hope for the future.”

Today, this sentiment rings truer than ever. Although Georgetown has a strong Catholic faith tradition, over time, the community has come together to celebrate the diverse beliefs of its members.

Hoya Holiday History
A look through the university archives reveals how the holiday season has been celebrated at Georgetown over the years.

According to Blue and Gray, Georgetown’s biweekly newspaper for faculty, in 1948, Santa Claus visited the dining hall and delivered distinctive blue packages to students. 1948 also marked the beginning of the Annual Christmas Carol Singing Contest, in which carollers gathered to sing in a variety of foreign languages. The event was sponsored by the Institute of Language and Linguistics, which was founded by Leon Dostert and Fr. Edmund Walsh, S.J., in 1949, though it has since been consumed by the department of linguistics.

1992 saw the release of a humorous email begging students not to topple the 12-foot Christmas tree in the Intercultural Center.

“Due to previous mishaps involving the unscheduled toppling of the tree, we ask that this tree not be moved under any circumstances,” read the email.

This year, Georgetown kicked off its holiday festivities Dec. 1 with the annual tree lighting ceremony in Dahlgren Quadrangle. Although the exact origin of the tree lighting is unknown, Blue and Gray first mentions its occurrence in 1998. The tree lighting has remained an integral part of Georgetown’s holiday festivities.

RYAN BAE FOR THE HOYA

“The annual lighting of the Christmas tree is a special moment for our community and a time to come together during the holiday season to reflect on our many gifts,” said Rachel Pugh, senior director of strategic communications at Georgetown.

The department of performing arts plays a vital role in organizing the ceremony. Student a cappella and theater groups annually perform in the ceremony, taking advantage of the opportunity to share their talents with the community.

“Oftentimes we go unnoticed unless students have a personal interest in seeing our shows, so it is fun to bring the community together with performing arts,” said Anna Pack (COL ’21), a singer for the GraceNotes, Georgetown’s all-female a cappella group.

The Mask and Bauble Dramatic Society, the longest-running student theater group, which was founded in 1852 at Georgetown, also performs at the tree lighting each year, where it puts on its rendition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” following the lighting.

On the same day as the lighting, the department of performing arts stages an annual holiday concert with the Georgetown jazz band and chamber singers, providing students with the opportunity to sing along to their favorite Christmas tunes.

The annual Messiah Sing-Along, another beloved tradition, combines carols with charity. The concert choir, conducted by professor Frederick Binkholder leads its audience in classic hymns like “Hallelujah” and “Glory to God” while raising money for the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

A Holiday for All
Although Georgetown is a Catholic university, it has long celebrated different faiths. The holiday season on campus gives students the chance to participate in interfaith traditions and celebrations.

RYAN BAE FOR THE HOYA
Georgetown set a precedent for academic institutions across the country when it hired its first Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Harold White, in 1968. Since then, Jewish Life has been an integral part of Georgetown’s spiritual community. In 2016, the Center for Jewish Civilization was launched.

Amidst the Christmas trees scattered around campus, Jewish Life lights the Menorah on each night of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The celebration takes place either in the foyer of Georgetown’s historic Healy Hall or the Makóm, the designated space for Jewish Life in the Leavey Center.

“This season is a salient and visual reminder of what the dominant culture is,” wrote Jewish Life Engagement Professional Ronit Zemel in an email to The Hoya. “Jewish Life is proud to be a part of the Georgetown community that values difference and inclusions.”

The Jewish and Catholic faiths are not the only ones to be represented at Georgetown. Thirty years after hiring its first Jewish chaplain, Georgetown hired Imam Yahya Hendi, its first Muslim chaplain. In 2014, Georgetown welcomed Pratima Dharm, the first Hindu chaplain.

Director for Hindu Life Brahmachari Vrajvihari Sharan said he appreciates Georgetown’s respect and celebration of different religious customs.

“The respect for the spiritual dimension of life that was woven into the fabric of the institution by the Society of Jesus is a solid foundation for this [respect],” Sharan wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Hindu religious observances continue throughout the holidays, and this does not in any way impede our services, as Hindus are always happy to help their friends celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza or other festivals that they may be observing.”

Most Hindu festivals conclude in the fall, but Hindu Life continues to host its weekly Arati prayer services in addition to partaking in interfaith events with other campus ministries.

For Sharan, religious festivals and interfaith dialogue on campus allow the holiday spirit to transcend specific religious practices and involve the entire student body in the various celebrations of the season.

“Sharing in one’s joy is a theme that pervades most philosophies as a counter to negativity, so, even if not part of the tradition whose festival is being celebrated, people will nevertheless have some takeaways therefrom,” Sharan wrote.

Finding Time to Reflect

Protestant chaplain Rev. Olivia Lane believes that Advent is the perfect time to prepare for the season because it encourages to students to slow down and relax.

“It’s a really special time for us in the liturgical year to remember to take a breath, and especially during the business of the last week of class and going into finals season,” Lane said.

Rev. Brandon Harris echoed Lane’s emphasis on contemplation in times of chaos.

“When we invite students to come to our office and come to service, we’re saying to slow down just for a moment, collect yourself and then go back into the world with a deeper sense of who you are,” Harris said.

In the spirit of deeper reflection and self-awareness, the Protestant chaplaincy also holds Taize services throughout the year in Dahlgren Chapel. Chaplains leave candles burning for several hours after the service ends to provide students with a space to quietly reflect and take a break from studying.

“It’s just good mentally, emotionally, and obviously spiritually to take that moment to check in with yourself and ask what your expectations are for the rest of the holiday,” Harris said.

Yet this reflection does not always have to take place in public, Sharan said, or even in a dedicated space of worship.

“For Hindus, the heart is the highest and most important abode of the divine,” Sharan wrote “By extension, when we celebrate our major festivals, therefore, the home is the focal point of the observances.”

Amid cramming for finals and seasonal celebrations with friends, campus ministry activities give Hoyas the opportunity to take a moment for themselves to reflect before leaving campus for winter break. Inclusive interfaith services bring a welcome calm to campus, making Georgetown truly feel like home before the holidays.

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