Belhaven Celebrates 84 Years of Singing Christmas Tree Tradition
November 15, 2016 (Jackson, Miss.) – The first and oldest outdoor singing Christmas tree event in the country started at Belhaven University in 1933, and this year will mark the 84th anniversary of the annual Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree.
Both performances on December 2 and 3 are free to the public and will take place at the Belhaven Bowl Stadium at 7:30 p.m. The stadium was designed with the tree in mind, and its new location fits perfectly on the west side, right between Heidelberg Gymnasium and the visitor side seating. The location enhances the experience, giving participants views from the field, in the stands or on the hill.
This year, Belhaven is putting a new twist on the old tradition. Former Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree alumni will be joining the choir and reliving the joy of singing on the tree.
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.
Certain traditions have become an expected element to the performance. A 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.
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. 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.
There are certain traditions dear to many of us that serve to mark the beginning of seasons or holidays, said Mr. Christopher Phillips, specialty instructor of choral, vocal and worship arts. For many in the Belhaven community and the Greater Jackson community, the Christmas Season officially begins with the Singing Christmas Tree.
Many alumni, such as Dr. Catherine Cook ’74, have fond memories of seeing the tree as a child and later performing on the tree. 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 at Belhaven. It was an experience I will always cherish.
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."
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