In 1933, a group of faculty and students, led by music professor Mignonne Caldwell, had the idea to construct a wooden frame for the campus choir to stand on while performing traditional Christmas carols. Some 82 years later, that moment shines bright as America’s Oldest Singing Christmas Tree, a Belhaven University tradition.
This year’s performance, open to the public, takes place on December 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m in the Athletic Bowl at the center of campus. This wonderful community event has been highlighted by the likes of Southern Living Magazine, and named among the top 20 events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society.
Ms. Bettye Quinn, Associate Professor of Education and Director of Elementary Education, has seen the event 77 of the 81 times it has taken place.
“I remember when I was three years old in 1937 and a family friend brought me to see the Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree for the first time,” recalled Ms. Quinn. “At the time, the tree was a group of 40 girls on a platform between the columns. They had on white robes and held bright lights that reflected into the lagoon. It was a glorious sight for a little child to see!”
Since then, the Singing Christmas Tree has taken on a few technological advances. A state of the art sound system is used and the candles remembered by Ms. Quinn have been replaced by LED lights. The 35-foot tall tree holds up to 100 men and women singers, and the LED lights change colors in various patterns and sequences according to the character of each Christmas carol.