Christmas spirit brings Trinity together

Oakmont Street is preparing for the 60th year of Trinity University’s most beloved tradition, Christmas on Oakmont. On Sunday, Dec. 4, Trinity’s combined choir will sing a Vespers Service in Parker Chapel. After the service, faculty members, including President Danny Anderson, Dean of Students David Tuttle and all of the vice presidents will open their homes to students.

“The street is alive with people,” said Charles White, vice president of Information Resources, Marketing and Communications, who has been part of Christmas on Oakmont for 18 years. “There is a handbell choir, a choir that goes around caroling and luminarias all over so the whole street looks lit up.”

Each house will serve a different kind of seasonal food, ranging from tamales to hot chocolate to gingerbread. White estimates that half of the student body attends Christmas on Oakmont each year, along with faculty members, alumni, students’ families and neighbors.

Christmas on Oakmont is a unique tradition because it is based out of school administrators’ homes, as vice presidents are required to live in university-owned houses near campus.

“Decades ago, President Calgaard believed it was important for the administration to be actively engaged in the daily life of the campus,” said David Tuttle, dean of students. “It makes sense for a small school like ours and gives it a very intimate feel.”

Yvette Peña, senior, said that it shows how much the university cares about its community.

“It reminds us how fortunate we are to go to a school where administrations invite us into their homes with open arms,” Peña said.

Although administrators spend hours preparing for the event, they say along with students that Christmas on Oakmont is their favorite Trinity tradition.

“All the vice presidents to a person love doing this,” White said. “We’ve got a couple of newbies this year, like Sheryl Tynes and our V.P. for Academic Affairs. So there’s a chance to pull some Christmas tricks on them. It’s not a tradition yet, but it’s one I’d like to start.”

The Vespers Service directly before Christmas on Oakmont is an even older tradition. Trinity choirs perform choral anthems and readings. In between, audience members sing Christmas carols along with the choir.

“It’s a service as opposed to a performance, so there is definitely congregational singing,” said Gary Seighman, director of choral activities.

Towards the end of the service, the choir moves the chapel by singing “Silent Night” while holding candles. The stream of people leaving Parker Chapel join with students waiting for houses on Oakmont to open and the celebration begins.

“The best part is the spirit of it,” Tuttle said. “Everyone is really joyous, kind and grateful. My family often comments on the diversity of the student body, so I love that international students get to see this tradition.”

Both Vespers and Christmas on Oakmont are designed to bring people together.

“Things that build community integrate with each other, let us get to know each other, make us feel part of a community,” White said. “Those kinds of traditions define the experience of being at Trinity.”

Seighman believes that caroling at Vespers also brings students together.

“Group singing is so embedded in human culture, and to be able to tell that Christmas story that way I think makes it especially powerful, both on an emotional and a spiritual level,” Seighman said.

Veterans of Christmas on Oakmont have a few tips for students who want to get the most out of the celebration.

“Go to all the houses because you get more variety,” White said. “Introduce yourself to the people you don’t know who you’re standing in line with while you’re waiting. Ask ‘Hey, what’s your story? What year are you?’ There’s an opportunity to get to know people you didn’t already in an environment like this.”

Peña recommends that people stay for the handbell concert, a unique aspect of the event.

“At some point during the night the handbell ensemble plays a really cool show outside of the houses and it’s great to watch,” Peña said. “It’s a well-needed change of pace before finals.”

Seighman encourages students who want to see the Vespers service to arrive early.

“It fills up very quickly,” Seighman said. “We even have to bring in extra chairs because the pews fill up.”

Tuttle said that Vespers and  Christmas on Oakmont events show, not only the holiday spirit, but the general spirit of the members of Trinity’s  community.

“This is a tremendous way to showcase and revel in our campus community. For me, it signals the start of the Christmas season, and hopefully good presents,” Tuttle said.

The Vespers will begin at 6 p.m. on Sunday and the houses on Oakmont will open when soon after the concert ends.