America's Oldest Singing Christmas Tree Celebrates 83 Years
November 17, 2015 (Jackson, Miss.) - Belhaven’s Singing Christmas Tree began in 1933, and it is the first and oldest outdoor singing Christmas tree event in the country. This year will mark the 83rd anniversary of this special concert. Both performances on December 4th and 5th are free to the public and will take place at the Belhaven University Athletic Bowl at 7:30 p.m.
Mignonne Caldwell, a former Belhaven music professor, came up with the idea when she recruited college engineer Mr. C. V. McLain to construct the first wooden tree frame for the choir to stand on. Caldwell’s Christmas concert idea became a reality and debuted to the public in 1933.
The annual event has transformed since its creation. The tree frame has grown taller, a sound system was added and candles were exchanged for LED lights. Today, the 35-foot tall wood and metal tree structure holds up to 100 men and women singers. The LED lights change colors in various patterns and sequences according to the character of each Christmas carol, creating a visual spectacle for listeners.
Alum Dr. M. Catherine Cook ’74 remembers going to the tree when she was a child, and when she was a student, participated in the performance. When the concert choir began singing and the lights on the Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree came on, it marked the beginning of the Christmas season for me. I can remember as a child thinking that it must be an amazing experience to sing the ‘O Holy Night’ solo on top of the tree. To my delight, I was asked to sing the solo my senior year. It was an experience I will always cherish.
Certain traditions have become expected elements to the tree. An auditioned soloist is positioned under the star located at the very top of the tree. This honored soloist performs "O Holy Night" near the Tree's conclusion. Other traditions include artificial snowfall during "White Christmas" and humorous "insider jokes" interposed into the lyrics of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and other Christmas carol favorites.
Ms. Bettye Quinn, Associate Professor of Education and Director of Elementary Education, has attended the event for 77 years and remembers seeing the tree for the first time. Quinn said, I remember when I was three in 1937 and a family friend brought me to see the Belhaven singing Christmas tree for the first time. At the time the tree was a group of 50 girls on a platform between the columns, they had on white robes and held bright lights that reflected into the lagoon. It was just a glorious sight for a little child to see. I have come every year since to see the Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree.
After the success of the first performance, the Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree became a yearly tradition. Belhaven’s Singing Christmas Tree was named one of the top 20 events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society, and it continually draws in thousands of people each year. The Singing Christmas Tree tradition continues serving the Jackson community by providing a spiritually edifying, fun-filled event of visual and musical splendor.
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