Herm takes a bow after guest conducting the final piece of the 'Tis the Season Christmas Concert on Dec. 1. On the stage behind him are the EMU orchestra and university choir. (Photos: EMU/Macson McGuigan)

‘A celebration of hope in a weary world’: Concert, parade, lighting kick off Advent season

Cups of cocoa, crates of cookies, a Christmas concert of carols and Claus on campus!

The EMU community welcomed the Advent season all December long with events that spread holiday cheer to students, faculty, staff, alumni and neighbors alike. For a quick rundown of those events and some wonderfully shot photos from Visual Media Manager Macson McGuigan, read on.

‘Tis the Season Christmas Concert

Saxophone players rehearse for the 2023 EMU Christmas Concert in Lehman Auditorium.
Choir members rehearse for the concert.

The ’Tis the Season Christmas Concert kicked off a busy weekend of festivities on Dec. 1 in Lehman Auditorium with two hours of Christmas songs from every music ensemble at EMU. Among the night’s highlights were a performance of the chorus from George Frideric Handel’s Hallelujah, a singalong Christmas medley with the crowd and the Christmas poems recited by EMU Director of Bands and concert emcee Kyle Remnant in between sets. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Remnant’s bright red, yuletide-themed suit as well as the master class in conducting that Herm put on display (just a few minutes after the night’s conductor Benjamin Bergey disappeared stage left).

Soloists included vocalists Jacob Nissley, Joshua Stucky, Afton Rhodes-Lehman and Mikayla Pettus, and Luke Haynes on organ.

Harrisonburg Holiday Parade

The EMU Chamber Singers perform from a float in the holiday parade in downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia.
President Susan Schultz Huxman and her husband Jesse drive the truck towing the float in the Harrisonburg Holiday Parade.

EMU did its part in spreading Christmas cheer through downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia, with a float in the city’s downtown parade on Dec. 2. 

The Chamber Singers, with director Benjamin Bergey, performed “Riu Riu Chiu,” a Spanish Christmas carol, from the float. Many student and staff volunteers greeted parade goers with blue Hershey’s kisses and candy canes. President Susan Schultz Huxman waved to the massive crowds lining the street while her husband Jesse Huxman drove the float along the route. 

The theme of the float was “Holidays Around the World.” Inspired by the peace pole on campus, decorators placed “peace” in 20 different languages around the float, which also sported blue lights, faux snow, a Christmas tree and about 80 miniature flags from countries all across the world.

Thanks to the advancement office, theater and music departments and the president’s office for their roles in shaping the parade. Those on the planning committee included Sara Wittig, Nicole Litwiller, Braydon Hoover, Bergey, Shannon Dove, Monica Pangle and Jon Styer.

Lighting of the Green

Students, retirees and faculty and staff and their families gathered on Thomas Plaza for festive Christmas carols, refreshments, and an official “lighting” of EMU’s front campus.
EMU President Susan Schultz Huxman exchanges some words with Santa Claus at the fifth annual Lighting of the Green ceremony.

The festive lights adorning campus and wrapping around the Christmas tree at Thomas Plaza were switched on during the fifth annual Lighting of the Green ceremony on the evening of Dec. 4. Students, faculty, staff and retirees enjoyed warm cider and hot cocoa and snacked on cookies while listening to songs from the EMU Jazz Ensemble and Chamber Singers. As dusk fell over campus, a candle lighting ushered in the advent season.

Santa Claus even made an appearance, handing out candy canes and boasting that nobody at EMU made this year’s naughty list.

EMU President Susan Schultz Huxman marked the occasion with some of her trademark rhetoric: “Our act of turning on the lights and celebrating with a little Christmas cheer is a celebration of hope in a weary world. As a Christian university, we celebrate the miraculous birth of Jesus, the prince of peace. As an Anabaptist voice on the religious landscape active for decades in interfaith dialogue, we also acknowledge and affirm the religious traditions of our non-Christian brothers and sisters.”

Special thanks to Facilities Management for their many hours of tireless work stringing the beautiful lights on buildings and walkways, and thanks to the President’s Office, which sponsored the event.

Holiday note-writing

EMU students Hannah Landis (left) and Zack Furr write letters to prospective admitted students at the annual note-writing event sponsored by the admissions office.
More than 725 notecards were written to over 500 prospective students at the event.

Inside the University Commons on Dec. 8, EMU students, faculty, staff and alumni joined together to hand-write hundreds of letters mailed to prospective admitted students from all across the country. According to the admissions office, which organizes the annual Note-Writing Extravaganza, more than 725 notecards were written to over 500 prospective students. A total of 103 EMU students, alumni and employees pitched in to help give future EMU Royals a warm winter welcome.

Participants could give their writing hand a break with a visit to the snack table, where an assortment of peppermint bark, cookies, coffee, cheese and crackers were laid out. Or, they could browse the EMU apparel and gear — EMU disc golf discs would make a great stocking stuffer! — for sale at the swag shop. Every five letters written earned a raffle ticket for a chance to win a gift basket.

Zack Furr, a junior from Staunton, Virginia, majoring in digital media and photography, sat at a table with a few friends and faculty adviser Jerry Holsopple. Because his list of recipients included students interested in his major, he took the time to write about the Visual and Communication Arts (VaCA) program and how its classes had changed his life.

Furr said he remembers receiving a handwritten letter from someone at EMU while he was in high school: “It left a nice impression. EMU was the only university that did that.”

The season’s first snow

An aerial view of campus after an overnight dusting of snow.

For one magical morning this month, the campus was blanketed in a fresh layer of snowfall. Although it quickly melted away in a few hours, it provided a beautiful backdrop for students headed to their last day of classes before final exams. McGuigan shot the photos with an aerial drone hovering above campus on the morning of Dec. 11. A post of the photos on EMU’s official Instagram account garnered a record-setting 742 likes, as of Dec. 19.

Sarah’s Christmas in clay

EMU security guard Elizabeth Jones issues parking citations. On her clipboard, Jason Hange’s name can be seen with an “X” next to it.
Left: Sarah Gupta individually glued each of the clay pine needles adorning the Christmas tree. Above: A wooden wagon stores the clay gift baskets that hold notes and poems to employees in the Facilities Management office.

This season saw the return of the elaborately ornate and delightfully detailed diorama of clay figurines at the Facilities Management office. 

Sarah Gupta (née Regan), who began crafting the miniature replicas of her coworkers in 2021, added some new twists to this year’s winter scene. Each day, members of the facilities team unfold a note or poem tucked inside one of the clay gift packages and read it aloud. 

Another addition to the diorama, says Administrative Coordinator Lori Gant, is campus security guard Elizabeth Jones. Jones, who is often decked out in pink, started working as a citation officer this year. She is immortalized in clay, pink clipboard in hand, issuing a parking citation to Venue Coordinator Jason Hange, who Gant says parked in a wrong space once. 

Unfortunately, with Gupta departing EMU in the year ahead, this could be the final time we get to see her clay creations.

Advent Greetings

EMU’s Advent greeting for 2023 features a special message from President Susan Schultz Huxman and music from the EMU Wind Ensemble.

And, last but not least, Patty’s cookies…

Christmas cookies baked by Patty Eckard, office coordinator with EMU’s Business and Leadership Department.

Each winter, Patty Eckard, office coordinator with EMU’s Business and Leadership Department, fires up the oven and bakes thousands of Christmas cookies for family, friends and anyone passing through the Campus Center office. This year, she says, she put on her baking gloves earlier than ever before — the beginning of October. The result: 4,000 to 5,000 delicious cookies in 36 different types, including more than 500 sugar cookies. One of our favorites was a sugar cookie with a “stained glass” center made from Jolly Rancher hard candy.

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