Christmas season comes around each year and brings with it the warmth of memories and traditions. Regardless of what type of family you come from, everyone has at least one ridiculous (and at times embarrassing) Christmas tradition. For example, despite the fact that many of the “kids” in my family have grown into adults, we can anticipate a new pair of “Christmas jammies” waiting for us under the tree on Christmas Eve (which we must then put on and model for our entire family in a runway fashion show). We sing Christmas carols at the Thanksgiving table after finishing dinner; we read the nativity story every Christmas Eve while sitting around the tree, and every year we bake a birthday cake for Jesus. It's not easy spending time away from such a tight-knit family full of traditions. When it came time for college, I had hoped to find somewhere that made me feel at home.
In Fall 2012, I began studying at Johnson University and immediately fell in love with the campus and people. That didn’t make spending my first holiday season mostly away from home any easier. Because I attend college in a different state, I am not always home when the time comes to pick out our Christmas tree or attend the annual church Christmas play. Upon my first realization of all I would miss, I began to sulk and became quite homesick. I spent the ride back to Knoxville, after Thanksgiving break my freshman year, pouting and thinking about how much it would sting to have to experience my family’s beloved December traditions via my Facebook Timeline when something incredible happened.
I arrived back at Johnson, and I realized the Christmas spirit had fully taken hold of my beloved campus. My eyes filled with visions of garland and lights. My heart forgot about everything I would miss out on at home. The potential for new Christmas traditions at my new home filled me with joy. As I entered my dorm, I noticed the time and effort my head resident put into making Johnson Hall look like a cozy living room. When I went to dinner that night, the Gally Commons Dining Facility sported a twenty foot tall Christmas tree. The next day on my way to class, the decorations in the Marble Hallway of the Phillips-Welsheimer Building took my breath away. Christmas cheer flowed through all of the campus. It seemed as if everywhere I went I found evidence of that Johnson’s faculty and staff had gone out of their way to ensure students felt at home. Two years later, I still make the drive through the front gate of Johnson in early December with the same huge grin on my face—eager for the festivities that await Christmas time at JUTN.
Joyous Christmas occasions fill the remaining days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Student Government Association throws an “Ugly Christmas Sweater” party every winter compete with gingerbread house decorating and enough hot chocolate to drown in. Following that, the Music Department presents the Festival of Christmas Joy, concert featuring our Tour Choir, Campus Choir, and Tintinnabulation (handbells), during which one finds his or her ears filled with the melodious sounds of Christmas songs from all over the world. Students, faculty, and staff also have the pleasure of attending Lessons & Carols, a worship service during which attendees celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Last, but certainly not least, since 1924 the student body has attended the Miller-Scott Christmas Banquet. During this semi-formal banquet, students have the humbling opportunity to be served dinner by the faculty and staff (and sometimes their families). I often find myself emotional at the idea of the professors and administrators, whom I hold in such high regard, scraping my plate and refilling my drink. After dinner, students walk over to the Phillips-Welsheimer auditorium to watch a skit prepared by faculty and staff, which featured our Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Life, Dave Legg, as Charlie Brown. Miller-Scott is a grand gesture of care from the faculty and staff to the student body. It leaves students feeling appreciated and loved by the Johnson community.
With enough outlandish decorations, cheerful carols, and banquets, even the biggest Grinch can begin to sense the Christmas spirit growing within them during the first three weeks of December—but none of that is really what makes me love Christmas. All of the flair makes it very easy to forget the reason for the season is not to indulge in decadent food or spend money on our loved ones. We rejoice in the human birth of our miraculous Savior some 2000 years ago. Without the freedom found in Christ’s love, there would be no possibility of experiencing the true joy found in Christmas time—and for that I am eternally grateful.
I once felt sadness at the idea of being away from my family during pre-Christmas festivities. Now, I know full well that one day after I graduate, each Christmas season I will feel as if part of the holidays are missing without the wonderful traditions at Johnson University. I’m glad these strong memories will remain with me always.
Written by Emilee Read ('16). Emilee is from Roanoke, Virginia. She is on the Human Services program at Johnson University Tennessee.