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Lighting of the Lawn celebration goes virtual in its 20th year

Organizers seek to create a memorable experience for all members of the community

One new addition to the event is that, for the first time since the tradition’s inception, both sides of the Rotunda will be lit.
One new addition to the event is that, for the first time since the tradition’s inception, both sides of the Rotunda will be lit.

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This year's 20th annual Lighting of the Lawn celebration will look different than usual. Due to the pandemic, the event which typically draws thousands of students to the Lawn will be held virtually Nov. 19. A video of the celebration will be sent out to University students as well the broader community and will feature interviews from University alumni and first responders, performances by dance and a cappella groups, the traditional “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” countdown and a brand new light show. 

While LOTL has traditionally been held during the first week of December before the start of finals, this year’s event was moved up to account for the condensed semester and so that students are still able to enjoy the tradition regardless of their physical location. In order to combat the spread of COVID-19, the fall semester will end before Thanksgiving Break with finals stretching into December, and most students will not return to Grounds until the start of the spring semester Feb. 1. 

Ally Bollettino and Hunter Fox, LOTL co-chairs and fourth-year College students, have been working since April to ensure this year’s event will be memorable, even if social distancing guidelines prevent people from gathering in person. 

Bollettino and Fox hope that the video format of LOTL will expand its audience, with people all over the world given the chance to celebrate the holidays in a way that has been unique to the University community in the past. Additionally, people will be able to watch the video when it premieres at 7 p.m. on the Lighting of the Lawn website, as well as any time after. 

Bolletino said that, for many members of the University community, Lighting of the Lawn has been an important and memorable event that has deepened their connection to the community and uplifted their spirits. 

“It’s been an important tradition,” Bolletino said. “It was started after 9/11 in the wake of those attacks, to bring the community together … with everything going on in the world right now, it was important for us to commemorate this tradition during the beginning of the holiday season to bring some normalcy.” 

One new addition to the event is that, for the first time since the tradition’s inception, both sides of the Rotunda will be lit. Fox said this decision was made as an effort to once again expand the University community and to champion the ideals of inclusion and unity.

“It's kind of crazy that in the 20 years of LOTL, it's never been done before,” Fox said. “If you're doing it on the Lawn we're building a community, but it's inside the University. This way, when we put it on the outside of the Rotunda, it's shining out to the entire community of Charlottesville. It's not just about building community within our university, but also building community between the Charlottesville area and U.Va.”

This year's theme of “Finding Our Light” further emphasizes the important message of staying positive and grateful despite the ongoing challenges faced this year. 

“The main focus is on what's been bringing you light over the last few months,” Bolletino said. “We're obviously into lights because of LOTL, but it's also symbolic for how it's good to still look for the light in things even when everything seems so dark.” 

The LOTL committee has been trying to find ways to make the event an engaging experience. In addition to the video, community members will also receive a watch guide which will include food, non-alcoholic drink recipes and crafts for children in the Charlottesville community who may be watching. Fox and Bollettino also teased a few more surprises in the works that are sure to make this year’s Lighting of the Lawn a unique and exciting experience, including more efforts to keep the audience engaged and connected to one another during the event.

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