Students Share Christmas Traditions

The Christmas season is a season of traditions – decorations, music, food and spending time with friends and family. Some traditions are universal, and others are unique. A few Union students shared their favorite Christmas traditions.

Jameson Winter

“Each year my family gets together to celebrate Christmas. The older all of us kids get, the harder it becomes to have everyone in the same place, but we do our best. I suppose we don’t have many traditions, but we always enjoy our time together and we always have the best food. My mother is an exceptional cook and baker. Each year, she makes her apple pie from scratch, and it’s easily one of the greatest tastes I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. Needless to say, it doesn’t last very long in our big family.”

Kelly Gwartney

“I love Christmas parties, Christmas food, making deliveries with my mom, giving gifts, playing games and most importantly celebrating the life of Jesus. One of my favorite holiday traditions is looking at Christmas decorations, lights and trees around the town or in Memphis and Nashville. My family and friends will travel to see big decorations in the Opryland or Peabody Hotel because it gets us in the Christmas spirit. I love to walk around and admire all of the time and hard work people put into making their Christmas decorations the best.”

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David Taylor

“My favorite Union Christmas tradition is the freshman council Christmas party, which I have been blessed to take part in twice: once when I served on freshman council and once when I served as freshman council mentor. Both times, Karen Taylor graciously opened her house to us and provided a meal. Freshman year, however, was an interesting experience. We always do a white elephant gift exchange, and the limit is five dollars. Unbeknownst to Karen, you can get a mouse from Petco for less than five dollars. Needless to say, when she realized that there was a mouse in one of the boxes, she went crazy and made us get the mouse out of her house. It was an experience I will never forget.”

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Christmas with the Olivers

Each generation of students seems to create its own traditions, most likely brought on by changes in what’s considered “cool.” However, there are some traditions that rise above the cultural shifts and remain solid from year to year. One of those generation-spanning traditions is the reading of the Christmas story by the president. This year was the 18th time this event has occurred, but the first time it was called Christmas with the Olivers.

Christmas with the Olivers took place in the McAfee Commons, which was decorated with lights and stocked with plenty of cookies and hot cocoa. Students piled onto the couches, chairs and even the floor as Dr. Dub and Susie made their way in. To start off Dr. Dub asked students to share a few of their favorite Christmas traditions, which ranged from cooking special dishes to adding a new ornament to the tree with family. Next the entire group joined in singing a few carols such as Deck the Halls and The First Noel. Dr. Dub then took a minute to document the crowd (he tweeted the photo later). To wrap up the evening Dr. Dub read both The Night Before Christmas and Luke 2, followed by another carol, Silent Night, during which everyone gathered closely together and locked arms. It was a truly special evening, where students were able to celebrate Christmas with the president and first lady.

Dr. Dub speaking to residence life employees before the event

Students gathered in the commons to fellowship with the president and first lady

Dr. Dub chatting with students before the Christmas Story.

Dr. Dub leads in some Christmas Carols.

Dr. Dub and Susie singing carols with students.

Susie Oliver, first lady of Union, singing carols with students.

Dr. Dub leaning back to get a photo of the crowd of students in the commons.

Dr. Dub reading A Night Before Christmas.

Dr. Dub reading A Night Before Christmas

Hot chocolate mugs resting on the table by the president.

Dr. Dub reading Night Before Christmas.

Dr. Dub reading a passage from Luke 2.

Dr. Dub and Susie singing one final carol with students.

Dr. Dub and Susie standing in a circle with students singing a Christmas song.

Lest We Forget: A New Tradition

Post by Jared Dauenhauer, assistant director of student leadership & engagement 

One of my favorite places on campus is the Carl Grant Events Center. It houses one of the best places I’ve found to meditate and reflect, Heritage Center. Most of us at Union may take a glance or two at this place, and I believe many of us, myself included, have failed to recognize its significance.

Heritage Center contains a visual timeline that spans three walls and almost 200 years of Union University history. I look at the faces and think of the stories of a time past at Union. When I look at the faces of past leaders and past students, I’m instantly reminded of a scene from one of my favorites movies: Dead Poet’s Society. In this scene, Mr. Keating has his students look to the students of the past and try to understand their legacy.

It is incredibly important to remember the past and the legacy that has been passed down to us. It makes us think about what legacy we will pass down. It’s the same question I ask myself when I visit the halls and annals of Union’s storied past. When I look at that timeline, I wonder what keeps us going? What is so important that we must continue to keep our doors open to generation after generation of students? Why have we rebuilt from fires, wars and tornadoes? What legacy or what story is really being told here?

Recently I sat down with students and staff members to answer these questions. Together we poured through old newspapers, yearbooks and documents trying to ultimately determine what legacy is being whispered to us. As in that scene you just watched, I believe there came about a moment in each of our journeys that we leaned into our past and heard: “Lest We Forget.” In research of this phrase we found homages to old poems and many wartime references to soldiers that had fallen in wars. While the phrase does not find it roots in our direct past, Union has certainly adopted it.

Unfortunately, we do the very thing that this phrase tells us not to do. We forget that the legacy Union plays a role in didn’t start in 1823 with the creation of the Jackson Male Academy. We fail to see the timeline that stretches beyond our almost 200-year history. Union’s story has always been the story of God’s faithfulness through Christ. Yes, there have been many faithful men and women in the legacy of Union, but they want us to look at the faithfulness of God as seen through our institution. They want us to see God’s work here, God’s faithfulness that was in place before Union University existed.

The thing about stories and legacies is that they are forgotten when they are not frequently read or expressed. Inspired by this reflection on Union’s past, an event was born that is to be held at the beginning of every academic year. What did we call it? You guessed it… Lest We Forget.

During this new tradition, we practice, we remember and we set ourselves up to continue to remember what the Lord has done for us. The details of this tradition are for those who have the honor of ever being a Unionite, but the message is for everyone reading this post. When we look to Union, when we look to our past and look to our future, we see the hands of God pointing us to Christ. As members of this institution we join in Union’s legacy and in the greater story propelled by our Creator, and we tell it to the world. When we forget, as we are apt to do, we see the loving words of our Lord echoing, whispering through the men and women who came before us, saying “Lest We Forget.”

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