It's hard to capture what is special about a Baylor Christmas. Some would say the concerts, others the carillonneur's ringing of the bells and others the lights and decorations. During the holiday season, the campus sparkles with opportunities for both joy and holy reverie.
The Christmas spirit officially arrives the Monday after Thanksgiving break when students and employees return and step into the Bill Daniel Student Center. There, in the building's foyer, stands a 20-foot live Christmas tree beautifully decorated with a different theme each year -- a sight that inspires more oohs and aahs than fireworks on the Fourth.
For some, what makes Christmas at Baylor special is chuckling at the sight of Judge Baylor's statue suddenly sporting a Santa's cap. For others, it's crossing the Burleson Quad at dusk and seeing on the lawn a lighted wire manger scene, awash in the soft glow of memorial lampposts.
For the hundreds of preschoolers in Waco who come to Santa's Workshop, sponsored annually by the Office of Student Activities, Staff Council and ARAMARK, it's probably the visit with the jolly old soul himself as he hands each child a bag of candy and a wrapped toy donated by Baylor students and employees.
For faculty and staff, it may be the open houses with tables heaped with goodies and steaming cups of mulled cider or the lunchtime miniconcerts presented by music students in the wreath-adorned Barfield Drawing Room. It also may be the annual faculty/staff dinner, hosted by the Division of Human Resources, which last year fed and feted close to 1,000 Baylor folks. The dinner was moved from the Barfield Drawing Room to the Ferrell Center in 1998 to accommodate the larger numbers.
For students everywhere, it is the heady rush of adrenaline that comes when the last final is taken and absolute freedom awaits ... not to mention home, hearth and home-cooked meals.
And for almost everyone, it is the music provided in Baylor's holiday concerts. Who can forget the hushed wonder of sitting in the Foyer of Mediation at Armstrong Browning Library, bathed in candlelight, and listening to the perfect harmony of the Chamber Singers?
Dr. Donald Bailey has been at Baylor for almost a decade. As director of choral activities and professor of conducting, he directs the A Cappella Choir and the Chamber Singers. He has discovered that the programs are beloved not only by the audiences, but by graduates who performed in them as students.
"Over the years, those Christmas programs become more meaningful to the students after they graduate, even more than when they're here," Dr. Bailey says. The bond is especially strong for former Chamber Singers who participate in the last song of the ABL concert, "The Blessed Son of God" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. "There's this long-term loyalty that happens because of the singing," he says.
John McLean, assistant professor of choral activities, directs Concert Choir and the Women's Chorus. He joins Dr. Bailey in conducting the Combined Choirs Christmas Concert on the stage of Jones Concert Hall in the McCrary Music Building. About 350 students present this annual tradition, which has become the harbinger of the holiday season for many at Baylor and throughout Central Texas. The three performances typically pack the house.
"When I'm on the podium looking out, I always enjoy seeing the faces embellished by the candlelight and actually experiencing it with the students," McLean says. "I can tell that they're moved in a way that they never could have anticipated. Afterward, they come to me and say, 'I had no idea.' They are moved not only musically, but they have been brought into the season."
Dr. Randall Bradley, conductor of the Men's Glee Club, appreciates the gift the young men offer to their audiences. "People are receptive to hearing music and engaging with it emotionally at Christmas in a way they don't any other time of the year," he says. "Musicians and singers are ready to offer their gift of music to other people. When you put all that together, you create an atmosphere that is almost magical."
In addition to the concerts, Baylor opens its doors to the wider community for a variety of family-oriented events. There's the annual lighting of the Kappa Omega Tau Christmas Tree, at which students and community members donate new toys for Toys for Tots through the U.S. Marine Corps. Live music and a guest speaker often are featured.
Isaac Kadane, a senior public relations, marketing/management major, co-chaired the event last year and says it has spiritual significance for him.
"One thing that's so neat about going to a Christian university is the freedom to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas," he says. "This Christmas tree lighting is one more way to help celebrate Christ's birth and also help bring the University closer together."
The Student Life Division joined the 37-year-old KOT tree-lighting ceremony last year, expanding it to "Christmas on 5th Street." It included adorning Fifth Street buildings with thousands of lights, caroling by members of Baylor choirs and a live nativity scene on Fountain Mall. Children enjoyed "reindeer games" in the Marrs McLean Gym.
"We were looking to reinvigorate the sense of tradition here at Baylor," says Dr. Eileen Hulme, vice president for student life. "People are in the mood to celebrate Christmas and are eager to be with their friends and have a break from their studies."
Across campus, another event is available for families who want to experience an old-fashioned Christmas. The Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village offers a Victorian celebration complete with lantern-lit village strolls, storytellers and ornament making.
And everywhere, there is music. Dr. Bailey says his favorite part of the Christmas concert season at Baylor is the performance of "The Blessed Son of God" at ABL, where the acoustics and setting create a "spiritual element."
"It's not a familiar carol, but it's an absolutely wonderful expression of what the whole reality of Christ is -- that Christ came into darkness bringing light. That piece ties the whole Christian faith together in one little simple song."