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Deck the Halls

Facility Services preps for tree lighting, Candlelight Celebration

After arriving from Windy Hills Farm in Ethel, La., the LSU Christmas tree is placed in its stand in front of the Memorial Tower. The tree will be lit on Tuesday, Nov. 29, following the LSU Candlelight Celebration.
Eddy Perez/University Relations

The holidays are here, and to get in the spirit, the university is following the annual tradition of the Candlelight Celebration. While lighting a Christmas tree might be a joyous tradition in apartments, homes, and even dorms across the country, LSU’s Christmas tree is a sight to behold.

For the third consecutive year, the LSU Christmas tree was grown in Ethel, La., at Windy Hills Farm. The cypress measures in at 32-feet tall, with many rows of feathery branches to decorate.

This year, the tree will be lit with white lights, and decorated with purple ornaments, glittering with sequins and sparkles. Once the star on top is in its place, the tree looks so perfect, as if it grew with its décor along the way. However, many hours, even days, of labor go into making the tree such a sight.

Donald “Smokey” Bradley, the electrician specialist leader, has worked on the Christmas tree each year for 12 years, helping with its installation, lighting and decorating.

“It might take us five days just to put the lights on,” Bradley said. “Plus two days to put on the ornaments.”

The star that goes on top of the tree, which measures almost two feet in diameter, requires the installment of an iron rod that stands near the middle of the tree.

“All together, the star and the rod, weigh about 10 pounds,” Bradley said. “It has to be able to withstand any wind.”

Richard Humphreys, the manager of the Arbor Crew at the university, said picking out the tree is a quick process, since they often choose one of the tallest ones on the tree farm.

“I am in the habit of picking a tree that has at least one good side that can be seen from the Parade Ground,” Humphreys said. “I will mark that side with an orange tie, so when we stand the tree up we can spin the right side to face a certain way.”

Before the university picked Louisiana trees, they were delivered from the Northwest. Although the trees were often taller, the local trees are hand chosen, and the entire process is much more sustainable.

Once the tree is delivered to campus, a small crane lifts it from the top, so that it can be placed in its stand – a two-foot wide can. Facility Services employees look at the tree from all angles and distances before tightening the buckles on the cables that hold the tree securely in place.

Once it’s standing nice and tall, the lighting comes next. Electrician Specialist Ray Jackson has been installing the lights on the Christmas tree for three years. For this project, a temporary power box supplies the energy for the many strands of lights on the tree.

This year, Jackson and Bradley used approximately eight cases of lights for the tree. Each case of lights holds 12 strands, with each strand housing 150 lights. Simple math reveals that this year’s tree will twinkle with about 14,400 white lights.

To put it in perspective, this year’s tree at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City measures in around 65 feet tall and will be lit with 30,000 lights.

“Instead of wrapping the lights around the tree, like you would at home, the strand goes in and out of each branch,” Jackson said. “This way, you can really get a full view of the tree.”

Not only does each branch get covered in lights, the strands are secured with several (four to five) tie wraps on each branch.

When the lights are finished, the ornaments are next. In order to secure the ornaments and distribute the weight evenly throughout the Christmas tree, the larger ornaments are placed toward the center of the tree, and the smaller ornaments toward the outside.

“We try to fill in the gaps, where there are no limbs, with the larger ornaments,” Jackson said.

To care for the tree, Landscape Services waters the tree daily, and checks on the cables to assure it is secure and safe.

While the lights are being installed on the tree, they are lit to ensure even distribution. After that, however, they remain unlit until Chancellor Michael Martin flips the switch at the Candlelight Celebration.

This year’s Candlelight Celebration will be held at 5 p.m., on Tuesday, Nov. 29. The performances will begin at the Claude L. Shaver Theatre in the Music & Dramatic Arts Building and will include a performance by the LSU Tiger Girls, Santa Claus reading the Cajun version of “The Night Before Christmas,” a performance by the LSU Gospel Choir, and a performance by the Ballroom Dance Club, along with Kwanzaa and Hanukkah observances.

LSU Dining, in cooperation with Community Coffee and Kleinpeter Farms Dairy, will provide refreshments, including hot cocoa, eggnog, and coffee.

After the performances, Mike the Tiger will lead the way to the Christmas tree in front of Memorial Tower.

Just before the tree is lit, Facility Services employees will shut off all of the lights surrounding the area. The countdown begins, and Chancellor Martin flips the switch to reveal a bright, beautiful tree.

“It’s awesome to see it when it’s first lit,” Bradley said. “Working on the tree gets you in the Christmas spirit.”

Immediately following the Candlelight Celebration, the LSU Staff Senate will host its 22nd annual Holiday on Campus at the LSU Student Recreation Center. The event is for the children of LSU students, staff and faculty. Children are encouraged to donate a new, unwrapped toy for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. Adults are asked to bring non-perishable food items to benefit the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. Activities include crafts, entertainment, refreshments, a rock climbing room, games and door prizes.

In the days after the lighting, the tree relies on an “eye” that illuminates the tree only when the sun is down.

The tree is taken down just days after winter break is over. It’s chipped, and turned into mulch that is used around campus.

“Working on the tree is relaxing because it’s different than my day-to-day work,” Jackson said.