This year's Christmas tree is a 26-foot Murray Cypress from Windy Hills Farm in Ethel, La. It will be the center of attention at the Candlelight Celebration Tuesday, Dec 1 at 5 p.m.

University Christmas tree native to Louisiana

Ethel, La. is a community in East Feliciana Parish, just north of Zachary. Located there is Windy Hills Farm, spread over 100 acres. Six of those acres are dedicated to growing Christmas trees.

Whether picking out the family tree is like The Waltons' The Homecoming or more like the National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, a trip to Windy Hills brings back a holiday tradition. Owners Ricky and Lisa Peairs had every intention of making their tree farm like a "trip out to grandma's."

"I grew up on a farm," Lisa said. "I remember going out to find our Christmas tree with my dad."

Candlelight Celebration History

Since 1995, the Candlelight Celebration features performances from LSU students and includes traditions from Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas. The celebration has become a great tradition at LSU and continues to attract larger crowds each year.

Like other major events of this magnitude, a large number of volunteers are needed to ensure success. Students, staff and faculty members join together to make this celebration a reality. Each year, new volunteers become part of the team.

This year, the university picked its Christmas tree from Windy Hills. The tree, a 26-foot tall Murray Cypress, stands in front of the Memorial Tower and will be featured in the annual Candlelight Celebration Tuesday, December 1.

Windy Hills is a "choose and cut" Christmas tree farm, meaning families can pick and cut the tree themselves, or the Peairs will assist in the chopping. The farm grows Leyland Cypress, Carolina Sapphire and Murray Cypress trees. According to their Web site, windyhillsfarm.net, the Murray Cypress is related to the Leyland Cypress only with a greener hue and stiffer branches. Murray Cypress trees tend to look more natural than other traditional Christmas trees.

While the Peairs have delivered large trees to the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and larger homes, the LSU tree is the largest they have delivered.

"We're really happy to cut the tree and bring it here," Lisa said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the tree was cut in the early morning, just before the Peairs loaded it to a truck and made the one hour drive to Baton Rouge. After the tree arrived on campus, cranes hoisted the tree upward to position it in its stand. Lighting and decorations on the tree began Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Lisa calls their tree farm a "young operation" as this is their eighth year selling trees. The tree farm was Lisa's wish, as she remembered her childhood years. She grew up on a typical farm in St. Helena Parish near Greensburg that had woods beyond the fields. She remembers venturing into the woods with her siblings, marking the possibilities for the family tree.

The Peairs planted the first Christmas trees in January 1999. Lisa said they always plant in January, after they have sold the average 500 trees for Christmas. While most people want a six-foot tree, the Peairs try to provide a variety of sizes.

"It takes about three years to get a six-foot tree," Lisa said. "We don't sell all the trees each year, we plant extra and plant them in a rotation."

On average, the trees grow two feet each year. The LSU tree was planted in January 2000, using a year old seedling. Currently, Windy Hills has about 12 other trees comparable to LSU's, in size.

Last December, the tree farm got to see the snowfall – a pleasant surprise after Hurricane Gustav damaged many of the Peairs' smaller trees. Aside from the Christmas trees, the Peairs dedicate their acres to raising beef cattle, quail, chickens and several dogs and cats. Windy Hills also has live wreaths, swags, garland and mailbox décor made from Cypress.

Windy Hills begins selling Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27 through Dec. 20.

The university Christmas tree is decorated with purple and gold accessories which have been recycled from the 2007 and 2008 trees. The tree will be lit using LED lights, which use significantly less energy than regular holiday lights.

This year's Candlelight Celebration will include dance and choral performances from the College of Music & Dramatic Arts, such as the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre's Nutcracker and the LSU Men's Tiger Glee Club. There will be s'mores, cooking decorating, and ice skating, as well as the lighting of the Christmas tree and celebrations of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. Donations for Toys for Tots will also be taken during the celebration. The Candlelight Celebration will be held in the Claude L. Shaver Theatre in the Music & Dramatic Arts Building at 5 p.m., Tuesday Dec. 1. It is free and open to the public.

Holly Phillips | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
November 2009