Catawba College lights Christmas tree to celebrate the season

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, November 23, 2021

SALISBURY — People huddled by fires in front of Catawba College’s chapel on Monday night to start a season of holiday cheer before the institution took a break for Thanksgiving.

In 2020, when almost every event was canceled, the tree lighting kept going. Catawba President David Nelson said the college scaled it back a bit last year and did not bring any food for the lighting because of concerns about COVID-19. This year, with more knowledge about how the disease spreads, vaccinations and significantly less spread of the disease overall, the lighting was back to its former glory, cocktail meatballs and all.

“The big difference is last year everyone was predicting the dark winter of COVID,” Nelson said. “That was sort of bearing down on everyone. I think this year people are a lot more optimistic. We know what we’re dealing with at least, and we know how to deal with it.”

Nelson said last year’s event was still encouraging, and people appreciated the chance to be together.

Last year’s tree lighting was missing another important piece: Santa. He made an appearance for the kids on Monday.

The crowd also got a preview of the college’s annual Service of Lessons and Carols concert. Director of Vocal and Choral Studies Phillip Burgess led the choir for two pieces. The concert’s return to an in-person format is another change from last year. In 2020, longstanding tradition was recorded and debuted online, with the singers masked and spaced out in the chapel.

Nelson thanked the crowd for the adjustments they have made for the past year to deal with the pandemic.

“It’s really wonderful to see and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that,” Nelson said. “It’s a time of gratitude, so maybe take some time and think about who you are thankful for in the days to come and express that very clearly to those people.”

Nelson said the lighting represents bringing light into the world. He ushered the crowd to the tree. There were cheers when it lit up.

Dean of Students Jared Tice noted another difference this year: students will come back after Thanksgiving break. Last year, the college finished the first semester remotely.

Tice said students have faced the normal challenges that come with going to college like anxiety and time management, but the pandemic adds another layer to those issues.

“We have seen a little bit of a heightened urgency on mental health issues, but fortunately we’ve got a great team,” Tice said, crediting health services, public safety and athletic staff.