Truman Throwback: It wasn’t always Holiday Lights

Tonight, Dec. 5, the Student Advisory Board will present the annual Holiday Lights event in front of the Kirk Memorial Building. The event begins at 7 p.m. and features Christmas lights, a capella performances, food and drinks. It’s a time where students can celebrate the holiday season and unwind before finals week. In honor of the seasonal festivities, this installment of Truman Throwback revisits several of the winter holiday activities available to Truman State University students of decades past.

Instead of having the Holiday Lights to look forward to, students who attended Truman 90 years ago could go to an all-school Christmas party, according to the 1929 edition of The Echo. The event was held right before Christmas break and included a charitable component where students and faculty could bring gifts for the less-fortunate children in Kirksville. It allowed students to not only toast the end of the fall semester but also honor the spirit of the season through giving.

Just 20 years later, Truman commemorated the holidays with an entire week of activities. Looking at the 1949 edition of The Echo, the week-long celebration included a plethora of outdoor decorations, a Christmas pageant, an annual faculty sponsored tea party, a formal dance and a school-wide assembly. Truman packed the week full of events to ensure that students went home for break in high spirits.

Truman’s tradition of winter holiday celebrations continued through the years. According to the 1979 edition of The Echo, the Saint-Petersburg State Ballet on ice visited Truman for a performance of “Swan Lake” held in Baldwin Auditorium. Though the performance went off without a hitch, it required extensive set up that spanned 52 hours spread over three days, according to Brad Steinmetz, the auditorium manager at the time. The preparations included installing an ice rink on the auditorium stage, hanging lights and crafting scenery. Making the ice rink proved challenging because the crew had to insulate the stage with Styrofoam, cover the stage with special coolant systems, dump crushed ice onto the rink, fill it with water and let the water refreeze to form a smooth layer for the dancers to skate on.

In more recent years — just before the turn of the millennium — more than 50 Truman students took part in skiing trips to the Rocky Mountains in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, according to the 1999 edition of The Echo. The group trips were sponsored through a travel agency and the Student Activities Board, and offered packages at different price ranges based on what students wanted to experience during the trip. The visits to Colorado also included activities such as night ski shows, parties and amateur ski races where students could win medals for showing off their ski skills.

Since then, Truman has condensed the holiday celebrations to the SAB’s Holiday Lights event. Tonight, students will be able to relax before the upcoming finals week as they drink hot cocoa and munch on cookies while listening to some good music under the Christmas lights. It will be a time to enjoy each other’s company as well as the holiday season just like students from decades past.