UL in History: Christmas Traditions

Dr Clifton W. Potter Jr. ~ UL History Professor

With Thanksgiving behind us, all thoughts are on the long vacation. However,

there is one great barrier to cross before we can enjoy the holiday season—final exams.

There was a time, not so very long ago when exams were given after Christmas vacation

and not before it. One would drag all the books and research materials home with every

intention of studying for finals during the holidays or writing that term paper which had

been hanging around your neck like the albatross. Only the highly disciplined were able

to study and write a paper during Christmas; I was not among them.

Sadly, old traditions have vanished from the college year because we have exams

before Christmas. Please do not misunderstand, I prefer to wrap up the fall semester

while I am wrapping presents for the members of my family, but I do miss the old

customs that been part of the season since our founding in 1903. The anticipation, the

preparation, the enjoyment all resembled the holiday itself. Luckily that void has been

filled by new traditions as rich as the old ones.

 

Last Friday night, The Choral Union presented Christmas in the Chapel, and then

on Sunday evening the latest installment of Carols by Candlelight brought the campus

and the wider community together for a service of lessons and carols that has been part of

our holiday celebration for half a century. It reminds me of similar services my family

enjoyed when we lived in Oxford. Finally, there is the annual holiday concert by the The

Wind Symphony and Orchestra. It is so well attended by students, faculty, staff, and

folks from the community that there are three performances. This year Traditions of St.

Nicholas promises to be filled with as many surprises as Santa’s pack as well as superb

music. Thus, as the days grow shorter and the balmy days of summer are but a memory

the air is filled with music and holiday lights dispel the darkness.

 

Sixty years ago, one of the big events in the period between Thanksgiving

vacation Christmas was a formal dance sponsored by the junior class—which I

mentioned in last week’s column. With finals beginning in early December that was no

longer possible. However, there is still a dance held on campus to welcome in the holiday

season, but it celebrates the service and accomplishments of the members of the

administration and the staff who work behind the scenes to supply the needs of the student body and the faculty. Sixty years ago, these unsung heroes simply did their jobs,

ignored by and large by the rest of the campus community. During his administration,

Dr. George Rainsford began hosting a luncheon shortly before the Christmas holiday for

the administration and the staff. Over the years the event was moved to the evening and

expanded to include the faculty. Now, thanks to Dr. Garren there is a dance in the

ballroom after the dinner—so in a sense an old tradition has been revived with a whole

new meaning.