More than 250 people gathered at the front of campus on Wednesday night to celebrate a tradition The University of Southern Mississippi has not had for long but is dedicated to hosting in recent years.
“Together, the Southern Miss community and the Hattiesburg community light the Christmas tree, ring in the holiday season but they also give back to a really cool organization,” said Student Government Association President Caroline Bradley.
According to the SGA website, Lighting the Way is “Southern Miss’ youngest official tradition” and brings out the Southern Miss community to celebrate the holiday spirit and give back to the community.
This year, SGA’s initiative was to give back to Edwards Street ministries, starting with its efforts during homecoming week from Oct. 23 – 29. SGA continued these efforts by organizing a canned food drive at Lighting the Way and inviting children from Aldersgate Mission School to perform Christmas carols.
The Aldersgate Mission kids, the Southern Belletones and Spirit of Southern performed musical numbers for the crowd.
“I loved how we had had all of our music groups come up and sing Christmas carols,” said volunteer freshman associate Kylie Hungerford. “Just having the community get involved was really cool. I didn’t expect that.”
During the sub-50-degree weather, community members were able to indulge in chili, cookies and hot chocolate while being entertained by the music groups.
Bradley said the event was to commemorate service to the community while celebrating the holiday spirit.
“It’s about to giving back to the Hattiesburg community,” Bradley said. “[We] raised money, they did a canned food drive. So they’re giving back to the community while also inviting the community to the Hattiesburg campus.”
Santa posed with children of the community for pictures, along with any students on campus that wanted to sit on the North Pole resident’s lap. Pictures were taken and laughs were shared. But again, the spirit of giving is what Bradley had on her mind the entire night while sharing a few of those laughs.
“Southern Miss centers around trying to give back to the students,” Bradley said. “It’s always really cool to see students give back to the Hattiesburg community that is constantly giving to Southern Miss. It’s cool to see the Southern Miss spirit come full circle.”
That full circle of giving went all the way up to the North Pole, where Santa Claus says should not be forgotten — even in a spiritual way.
“[Santa] recognizes that Christmas is a very symbolic occasion for Christians,” Claus said. “Tonight we have a group of folks that enjoy the Christmas season, the goodwill and there’s lots of different folks from different backgrounds and I hope that they all remember the Christmas season is not about Santa Claus — but it’s about something else.”
SGA will plan more holiday festivities, as students prepare to get closer to heading back home for the break and get into the holiday spirit.
“We’re planning a big Christmas thing for finals week,” Hungerford said. “We’re going to be spreading more spirit just to get people more relaxed about finals. This is a good way to start it off.”