Thousands Ring in the Holiday Season at Jovial Lighting of the Lawn

The past, present and future melded perfectly at this year’s illustrious Lighting of the Lawn event at the University of Virginia – much like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which famously features the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

Near-clear skies and chilly temperatures greeted the evening in spectacular winter fashion, as the steam from revelers’ hot chocolate and apple cider created small, warming halos for cold hands.

Thousands were gathered, including students, faculty members, staff and their families and members of the Charlottesville community.

 

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Revelers were invited for free cookies, hot chocolate and apple cider.
Revelers were invited for free cookies, hot chocolate and apple cider. (Photos by Dan Addison, University Communications)

The Past

“Brighter Together” was the theme for this year’s Lighting of the Lawn and the aim was to make it more reflective. Organizers designed the evening to harken to its roots, while looking to the future.

The community event was launched 17 years ago in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Since then, student leaders said, the festivities veered from the original theme. This year, the annual reading of the student-written poem brought the original intent back in stark relief.

President Jim Ryan, attending his first Lighting of the Lawn since taking office this year, opened the poem, parts of which were also recited by another new face at UVA, University Police Chief Tommye Sutton. They were joined by Dorrie Fontaine, who in July will conclude 10 years as the beloved dean of the School of Nursing.

Each year students write a special poem and invite surprise guests to recite it. This year President Jim Ryan, Nursing School Dean Dorie Fontaine and University Police Chief Tommye Sutton did the honors.
Each year students write a special poem and invite surprise guests to recite it. This year President Jim Ryan, University Police Chief Tommye Sutton and Nursing School Dean Dorrie Fontaine did the honors.

Speaking from a stage in front of the steps of the Rotunda, Ryan began:

The fall semester has come and is almost gone
Let’s celebrate tonight with Lighting of the Lawn
All throughout town with glee and cheer
Charlottesville: our friends and family are HERE

Fontaine continued:

Welcome, everyone, to this night of love and fun,
Don’t worry Wahoos, the night has just begun.
Look how far we’ve come from 2001
17 years later and see all that we’ve done

The Present

The smell of wood smoke from the fireplaces in Lawn residences filled the air as members of the community began flooding onto the Lawn just after 6 p.m., some heading down to the south end for a holiday reception where attendees enjoyed dinner from local food trucks.

Fourteen-month-old Lucas Reinhard enjoys a cookie in the run-up to the Lawn festivities.
Fourteen-month-old Lucas Reinhard enjoys a cookie in the run-up to the Lawn festivities.

One of the organizers’ goals was to make this year’s Lighting of the Lawn more community-oriented.

Three generations of one family from Keswick heeded that call after hearing about the free event on a local radio station. Fourteen-month-old Lucas Reinhard, swaddled tightly to guard against the cold, was rolled by father Brian in his baby carriage up to a table laden with free hot chocolate, apple cider and cookies.

They were just in time for performances that began at 7 p.m. on a stage in front of the Rotunda.

“That’s Christmas to Me” was performed by a UVA musical group, The Minute Men. Many more a cappella performances followed, including “Little Drummer Boy,” by the Harmonious Hoos and Choose (Christian Hoos Exalt), and “Baby Please Come Home,” a joint act by the Hullabahoos and the Virginia Belles.

Sixteen student groups performed this year, including a cappella and dance outfits.
Sixteen student groups performed this year, including a cappella and dance outfits.

During a reflective interlude between musical acts, several student speakers touched on the origins of Lighting of the Lawn, what it is like to be a first-generation student, finding community at UVA and in Charlottesville and living at UVA as a minority.

“When it comes to radical change, that means we all buy into this idea of a community that is built around love, not exclusivity,” said Vilas Annavarapu, head resident of Brown College and chair of the Asian Leaders' Council. “I want a student body that lives and learns together, thoughtfully challenges one another and pushes the boundaries of what we can accomplish as a community,” he said to loud applause.

Making this year’s Lighting of the Lawn greener was also a priority. For the first time, students used solar power to ignite the popular light show, which capped the evening with thousands of bulbs flashing in syncopation to the deep beats of several popular musical tracks. In the finale, revelers danced with dozens of glowing balloons tossed into the crowd from the balconies of Pavilions I and II.

The Future

Looking to the future, the Lighting of the Lawn committee had another new component. In the weeks leading up to the light show, they invited the public to submit ideas for the next 200 years at UVA – one idea for each year.

Even Homer was in the holiday spirit, sporting a festive display of colorful lights.
Even Homer was in the holiday spirit, sporting a festive display of colorful lights.

On Thursday, those ideas were posted in an installation on the lower Lawn.

The suggested goals were mostly serious, with a few lighthearted ideas sprinkled in. The submissions included admitting more minority students, being completely sustainable and getting Webster’s Dictionary to change the official spelling of “who” to “Hoo.”

One of Sutton’s lines in this year’s poem may best have summarized UVA’s recent past, present and future.

We’ve experienced several immense challenges in our past
But this is Our University to Shape and we’ll make it last
Let us remember that We Are Not Invisible
And that this community will stand indivisible

The Lawn will remain illuminated at night throughout the holiday season.

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications