The highly anticipated annual tree lighting ceremony will be cherished by many in the years to come. 

On Wednesday, Nov. 30, the Azusa Pacific community crowded together on Cougar Walk to share in the annual Christmas Tree Lighting. This tradition, which began in 2015, celebrates the beginning of Advent by lighting the first advent candle, representing hope, and, of course, by lighting APU’s 30-foot Christmas tree

The morning of the event, students awoke to a transformed Cougar Walk, which was freshly adorned with Chrimtmas decorations. All throughout the day workers could be seen solidifying every detail, from the countdown to the ceremony’s music. 

Chris Kelly, who serves as the director of media and live events, was in charge of all the production elements. This included the snow, special effects, audio, and lighting. However, he could not have done this alone, saying that his team of six put in almost 100 hours just in the following day alone. This, on top of the two months of planning and collaboration throughout the community, created a magical evening that Kelly believed made all the work pay off. 

Photo courtesy of Morgan Faranov

Before the event even began, students gathered around. For several of the seniors, there was a thicker air of anticipation. Cecilia Ramirez said, “It’s kind of sad. It kind of puts you in shock that it’s our last year. It’s our last time ever doing this type of event.” Fellow senior Keren Ruiz added that it’s moments like these that she will look back on for years to come.

Both Ramirez and Ruiz expressed how the tree lighting shows just how close the APU community is. As they reminisced on last year’s tree lighting, Ruiz said, “Not only did our professor let us out to see the event, it was really exciting because last year they were introducing the then interim president, Andrew Barton, and we got to meet him and it was wonderful that he talked with us!”   

Looking around, it was clear that events like these allowed for every member of APU, no matter their role or age, to connect as one. Through the crowd, one could see President Adam Morris and his family cheerfully talking to students, many of whom President Morris now knows by name. Children of staff and faculty members also seemed happy to be a part of the community.

Sophomore McCall Zeutzius, a commuter student, described how it can be hard to feel connected to the school at times. However, she added, “This feels really inclusive. It’s very lively and it feels like community and connectedness and family.” 

Photo courtesy of Morgan Faranov

President Morris also felt the lighting allowed for certain students to feel more included. “I just heard that a group of grad students who are on campus for a class, the faculty member brought them out, which is wonderful because I think grad students sometimes have a hard time connecting with the university,” he said.

With the full community out, the event kicked off with carols from one of the chapel bands. Following the performances, Karen Rouggly, her husband Seth Rouggly and her boys Eli and Boaz went up on stage. The two children seemed to be a crowd favorite as they shared their favorite holiday traditions. Afterwards, all of the kids were invited closer to hear a portion of the Chrismtmas story. 

As the sun set, the chapel band sang an angelic version of  “Angels we Have Heard on High before Pastor Coba Canales and Pastor Ta’Tyana Leonard gave a Christmas message about the hope that Christ has given to generations both past and present. 

Then, candles were lit as the attendees sang “Silent Night.” The passing of the light seemed to draw the community even closer. Hundreds could be heard as the final acapella verse of the classic was sung. At its conclusion, several people held in one hand a blown out candle, while the other arm stretched out around their friends and family. 

Photo courtesy of Morgan Faranov

Freshman Berry Langley spoke on this. “The candle can signify so many things. I love seeing the significance of it. It’s really our connection to each other. Through Christ we light a flame and we keep it glowing. Even if a flame burns out there are so many people to turn to to light it back up again,” she said. 

Finally, it was time for the tree lighting. Students shouted in excitement as President Morris walked on stage. He was joined by APU alumna Lindsey Rehfeld, ’86, and her husband Dean Rehfeld who both have given back generously to the APU community. As Lindsey Rehfeld flipped the switch, the tree came to life. With this, enchanting music came on, snow fell, and the christmas star sparkled. Everyone cheered. 

A Barbershop quartet closed out the evening with light hearted tunes. Students snapped along to “White Christmas and some enjoyed the group so much that they shouted for an encore. Even after the event was over, most students lingered around, fully embracing the festivities.

While others chartered around, President Morris reflected on his first Christmas here at APU:“It is such a warm community. I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight with the tree lighting. I’ve been to a lot of tree lightings but this was remarkable and so meaningful. I loved that this one started early at 4:30 because it allowed for faculty, staff and commuter students to come before they went home for the evening. It was a big crowd! I was told that there were about 2000 people. It was filled all the way to the very back.” 

Photo courtesy of Morgan Faranov

For many, the tree lighting carried a unique importance. Freshman Langley was with an Australian family that has been staying with her family, and she expressed that they had never seen something like this. Additionally, the family’s son felt a strong tie to the season of miracles as he himself was not supposed to survive past childbirth but had now celebrated his 18th birthday, first Thanksgiving, and now Christmas in the United States. 

Also embracing the US’s Christmas celebrations, Jihyo Kwak, a junior from South Korea, said she loved how the states go all out with events like these. “I feel it’s way bigger of a deal here. They don’t celebrate it big from like a month ahead so I can see it’s a really big deal here. People put their efforts into everything, and growing up in a Christian family, I love the vibe,” she said. 

For Kwak, the season is heavily associated with her family. Though the tree lighting didn’t cure her homesickness, she felt it was a reminder of the friends she had, and it was a great break from the business of finals. 

Photo courtesy of Morgan Faranov

Though the stress of finals weighs heavily on students, Langley wants to embrace the next few weeks at APU. Langley said, “You know everyone is just going to go away once finals are over and everyone is going to disperse, so the two [weeks] we have here to celebrate Christmas with college friends, I’m really excited for them.” 

Like Langley, the tree lighting caused President Morris to look forward with expectation. His hopes include a strong finish to the year, praying for students as they finish up the semester and, for some, as they prepare to graduate in December. The event also had President Morris looking back in gratitude: “This is the start of month six. For us it’s really hard to believe. I still can’t wait to get here everyday.” 

Advent season is certainly a fitting time to look at past highlights and to think about the future with excitement. With this said, students can look ahead to additional APU end of year celebrations in the upcoming week alone, which includes APU School of Music’s “Celebrate Christmas”  and Campus Life’s, “Midnight Breakfast.” We hope to see you there! 

Photo courtesy of Morgan Faranov