Our Stories

Star Tree

VIDEO: The Willamette and Salem communities gather for holiday songs and the lighting of the Star Trees. (0:37)

Lighting up the giants

Whether ambling the paths on the west side of campus or driving eastward on bustling State Street, the Willamette and Salem communities now have the Star Trees to light the way as the final weeks leading up to the holidays melt quickly away.

Last Saturday, members of the Salem community joined the Willamette campus for the 14th annual Star Trees lighting ritual — a festive evening of caroling, cocoa, camaraderie and tradition.

Bearcats and Salemites huddled together in the crisp evening air as the 50 strands of 1,700 lights were set aglow, and the holiday spirit flooded the Willamette campus.

"It was great that the evening brought the Willamette and Salem communities together," says Lisa Broadstone '14. "The event shows that the two aren't separate entities; it really felt like one community."

The trees themselves, five Sequoiadendron giganteums planted by the Class of 1942 as a farewell gift, are the largest sequoias on any college or university campus in the U.S. They are also the subject of campus lore, including the superstition that a kiss from your sweetheart under the trees ties your fates to matrimony.

Whether Star-Trees-cross'd lover or curious passerby, anybody can appreciate the breathtaking majesty of the giant sequoias and the five-pointed star formed by their boughs, viewable by standing underneath them.

In consonant holiday spirit, Beta Theta Pi fraternity shared cocoa and cookies at the tree lighting as they hosted their 17th Annual Penny Coat Drive, a philanthropic event in which the chapter collects clothing donations to support the Union Gospel Mission homeless shelter.

A holiday concert followed the lighting, featuring various musical groups from the Willamette campus and an array of heartwarming seasonal melodies.

The Class of 1942 could little have known the legacy they set in motion with their simple gift of five baby sequoias, but the Willamette and Salem communities have reaped a great deal of cheer from the trees' presence as they revel in one of Willamette's most beloved traditions.