Holiday tradition marks tail end of University semester

12th annual Lighting of the Lawn will be held Thursday, 7,000 people expected to attend


It’s that time of the year again: The days seem shorter, classes seem longer and finals loom on the horizon.

With the waning hours of sunlight, however, comes an enlightening event — the University’s 12th annual Lighting of the Lawn.

On Thursday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. the tradition will continue with an estimated crowd of 7,000, comprised of both the University’s student body and the Charlottesville community. About 20 a capella groups will sing an assortment of holiday favorites and other classic hits, and Politics Prof. Larry Sabato and School of Nursing Dean Dorrie Fontaine will read a comical poem, recapping highlights of the 2012 school year.

The Facilities Management staff assembles more than 4,000 feet of lights, stringing them around the Rotunda, pavilions and columns lining the Lawn. The low-energy LED lights, donated by Dominion Virginia Power four years ago, will turn on every night until Jan. 3.

Students look forward to this event all year. “Lighting of the Lawn is one of the Belles’ favorite traditions at U.Va.,” said fourth-year College student Siobhan Donnelly, president of the a capella group Virginia Belles. “It’s a great way to bring the a capella community all together, and the University community at large, for some good old-fashioned holiday fun.”

The event began in 2001 as a way to unite the community after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Since then, the event has become a highlight for students, faculty, and Charlottesville citizens to come together and appreciate all that they have.

Last year, the fourth-year trustees who host the Lighting of the Lawn created a community service aspect to the event, donating to Coalition Assisting Residents in Emergency Situations, a division of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency.

This year the Lighting of the Lawn will incorporate community service by seeking donations for a different division of the agency — Hope House. The organization is a transitional housing program that aims to help homeless Charlottesville families get back on their feet. Hope House provides resources that establish financial literacy on debt, credit, and savings, foster strong relationships with their children through school-related activities and provide a safe, relaxing environment in which families can start fresh.

To encourage donations from all parts of the community, the student organization and the Greek organization with the largest contributions get to announce one of the singing groups at Lighting of the Lawn; the First Year Council awards a pre-reception in a Lawn room to the highest dorm donation; any organization that reaches $50, $100 or $200 will be recognized; and all students who donate are entered in a raffle to win various prizes, among them a meal for two at the Boar’s Head.

Fourth-year College students Jenna Dagenhart and Alexa Wauben are the co-chairs for Lighting of the Lawn and have been working on the event since April. “The moment leading up to the event makes it all worthwhile,” Dagenhart said.

Fourth-year College student Kristen Hessler is the Community Service Chair of Lighting of the Lawn, heading the fundraising effort for Hope House. Despite a tight economy, Hessler remains positive. “We have sought donations from business sponsors around the Charlottesville area, but with the tough economic times, many have been unable to donate,” she said. “We’ve been so touched by their generosity though. Even when they have been unable to donate, a lot of businesses have tried to find some other way to get involved by donating food for the event or raffle items for student donors.”

The event will start off with a few opening remarks by University President Teresa Sullivan. The evening’s festivities will run until 10 p.m., with the evening culminating in the official switch-on of all the lights. “It’s an amazing feeling to have the University and Charlottesville communities together celebrating the holiday festivities,” Hessler said. “It’s a time where students can momentarily forget about impending finals and can just relax, celebrate the end of classes, the holiday season and the great opportunity we all have to be at such a beautiful school — despite the construction.”

related stories