A Treasured Holiday Tradition
December 03, 2018
On the evening of December 6, 2018, Southwestern’s Candlelight Services, the school’s annual holiday celebration, will take place in the Lois Perkins Chapel. This year’s events come four days after the start of Advent, a season marking the beginning of the liturgical year and observed by many Christian churches as a celebration of the nativity of Christ. “Candlelight starts the Advent season, and Advent is a season of waiting,” says Southwestern Chaplain and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life Megan Danner ’06. “There’s something really significant about marking the beginning of the Advent season, and I just love that Southwestern has this tradition.”
Of course, Candlelight also marks another waiting period for students: traditionally taking place on the Thursday during the last week of fall-semester classes, the services provide an opportunity to reflect on past accomplishments and anticipate the future. In addition, the ceremonies bring together members of the campus and the surrounding city: “Candlelight is a crowd favorite of the Georgetown community as a whole,” Danner comments. “It opens up Southwestern to the Georgetown community to mark Advent in a really special way.”
Originally called the Christmas Carol Service, the 103-year tradition of Candlelight began under the direction of Phoebe Eleanor Jones Bishop—wife of Dr. Charles McTyeire Bishop, the University’s president from 1910 to 1921—with the assistance of Laura Kuykendall, who served Southwestern variously as an instructor of expression, the director of the girls’ gymnasium, and the dean of women from 1914 to 1953. The 1915 service consisted of a processional of 125 women singing Christmas hymns while accompanied by the Southwestern University Orchestra. It also included a prayer from one of the Methodist pastors in attendance, the singing of several holiday carols, the reading of a Christmas story, and a buffet dinner. At its inception, Candlelight was described as “the most beautiful and elaborate pre-Christmas entertainment ever given at Southwestern.”
Over a century later, Danner recalls sitting in the balcony as a student and watching the great beauty of the candles being lit up gradually. When she led her first Candelight as chaplain in 2015, she relished the opportunity to see the ceremony from a different perspective. “The people who are leading it and doing the readings stand at the top of the stairs as the candles are being lit by the full congregation, and it’s just awe-inspiring to watch darkness become light,” she reflects. Danner sees Candlelight as representing themes expressed in the Gospel of John, such as “darkness becoming light [and] doubt becoming hope. It’s just so meaningful that the light really does shine in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it—and that Christ is the light that brings hope and joy to the season.”
“It’s just awe-inspiring to watch darkness become light.”
Last year’s services provided another warm memory for community members. “It snowed during Candlelight last year,” Danner recalls. “As we were walking out, recessing from the chapel, the back doors were open, and the Academic Mall was covered in snow. Walking out of this very meaningful, special service into this snowy white wintery wonderland was so glorious and so appropriate for the season.”
This year’s Candlelight Services will be led by the Reverend Doctor R. Christian (“Chris”) Harrison ’73. The readers will include various Southwestern alumni: Reverend Doctor Roberto Gomez ’69, Reverend Milton Jordan ’62, Reverend Doctor Ken Peters ’67, Reverend Doctor Everette Schrum ’70, Reverend John McMullen ’67, Dr. Susan Peace Holley ’72, and Ann Norton Browne ’72. Choral and instrumental music is a significant element of each ceremony and will be provided by the Southwestern University Chorale and Singers, conducted by Dr. Beth Everett, visiting assistant professor of music. The organist is Pamela Gregory Rossman ’72, chapel organist and instructor of music. The oboe will be played by music major Shelby Toliver ’22.
Southwestern welcomes all members of the campus and Georgetown communities to these beloved festivities. The two ceremonies are free to attend and will begin at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday, December 6, 2018, in the Lois Perkins Chapel.