Belhaven University to celebrate 87 years of Singing Christmas Tree tradition

Submitted photo

Belhavan University Singing Christmas Tree.

JACKSON — Belhaven University is home to the oldest singing Christmas tree tradition in the United States. For the past 87 years, thousands of students and alumni have been part of this special Christmas tradition.

The two free performances of the 87th Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6-7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Belhaven Bowl Stadium.

“This annual event has become a family tradition to kick-off the Christmas season and we are honored to present this gift to our community,” said Dr. Doran Bugg, Belhaven’s Music Department Chair.

Since its creation in 1933, the tree frame has grown taller, candles were exchanged for LED lights, voices and music were amplified and more singers were added each year. Today, the wood and metal structure holds over 100 men and women. The lights change colors in various patterns and sequences according to the character of each Christmas carol, creating a visual spectacle for listeners.

“This year’s tree will be unlike any other in its 87 years of history,” adds Bugg. “The quality of instrumentation is getting a boost.  This year, professional-quality instrumental tracks will accompany tree singers.” Bugg also points out that several of the familiar Christmas carols will be refreshed through new arrangements, and the tree lights will also be reprogrammed with the potential for thousands of lighting combinations.

According to Bugg, one added change will remain a surprise. “I can’t say too much, but one of Belhaven’s creative arts departments will be featured in this year’s performance, guaranteed to become a new tree tradition.”

Certain traditions have become expected elements to the tree. An auditioned soloist is positioned under the star located at the very top of the tree. This honored soloist performs "O Holy Night" near the Tree's conclusion. Other traditions include artificial snowfall during "White Christmas" and humorous "insider jokes" interposed into the lyrics of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and other Christmas carol favorites.

Mignonne Caldwell, the originator of Belhaven’s tree and music professor, created the event as a way to give back to the surrounding community. Caldwell recruited college engineer Mr. C. V. McLain to construct the first wooden tree frame for the choir to stand on. Caldwell’s concert idea became a reality and debuted to the public in December 1933. After the success of the first performance, it became a yearly tradition.

“Of course, timeless elements including the singing of “O Holy Night” by an auditioned student musician, and crowd favorites like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” will remain,” adds Bugg. “Woven into the event, Belhaven President Dr. Roger Parrott will read the real Christmas story from God’s Word, a reminder that God’s sending His Son, Jesus, to be born into our world is truly the greatest gift of all.” 

Bettye Quinn, Associate Professor of Education and Director of Elementary Education, has attended the event for 82 years and remembers seeing the tree for the first time.

“I remember when I was three in 1937 and a family friend brought me to see the Belhaven singing Christmas tree,” Quinn said. “At the time the tree was a group of 50 girls on a platform between the columns, they had on white robes and held bright lights that reflected into the lagoon. It was just a glorious sight for a little child to see. I have come every year since to see the Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree.

“There’s nothing else like the Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree! Annual attenders and first-timers will leave excited to embrace and celebrate the holiday season,” Quinn said. “Trust me, you don’t want to miss it!” 

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