The campus has a glow to it, and not just from the 100,000 plus lights that illuminate the front lawn. The semester is winding down, and though students may feel exhausted, there is a subtle feeling of excitement that mimics the first few weeks of the school year.
However, the Christmas has not always been evident at Harding. The 700 wreaths and swags – straight wreaths hung on the poles – were not something that students would see on their walk to class, according to Vice President of Parent and Alumni Relations Liz Howell. She said Christmas was not a big deal at Harding until about 2006, after the David B. Burks Building was remodeled.
Howell said the university has worked over the years to keep each year’s celebration different, keeping a consistent theme. Howell said ultimately they want students and Searcy residents to enjoy the decorated campus.
“It really started in 2006 with Dr. Burks,” Howell said. “He loves Christmas and wanted to make it something special here.”
According to Howell, traditions such as the lights on the front lawn, hot chocolate and carriage rides really took root on campus after Harding faculty members visited the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort in Nashville, Tennessee, during Christmas time. Howell said they were inspired to bring that spirit back to the university, including the lights cascading from trees, and the large Christmas trees that stand in the Heritage lobby.
To achieve such a feat, Physical Resources begin hanging lights the first workday after Homecoming weekend;wreaths, swags and the Heritage decorations begin going up around two weeks before Thanksgiving break.
“It is definitely a commitment from the university, but we know that the students really do appreciate it,” Howell said.
Maintenance specialist and ‘Head Elf’ Bob Barnett heads up the Christmas decorating operations. Both he and Howell said the decorations are his baby, and they are what brought him to Harding. Barnett was asked by a friend around Christmas time many years ago to assist in hanging lights on campus.
Barnett said he “fell in love with this place.”
“There is something so special about this campus that you do not find out there in the ‘real world,'” Barnett said.
Barnett said he recognizes the holiday spirit and the clear presence of God on this campus.
Sophomore Allison Slagter said the stringed lights are her favorite Christmas decorations because they remind her of her home in Michigan.
“The lights make me smile so big every time I see them,” Slagter said. “I’m used to very snowy Michigan winters, and to me these lights look like snow falling from the sky, and that just brightens my heart to think that even from so far away I can get a taste of home.”