Christmas on Fifth to celebrate 21st anniversary with KOT tree lighting

Christmas on Fifth has been a staple on campus since its humble beginnings in 1967. Baylor Roundup File Photo

By Jonah Kramer | Staff Writer

Baylor’s Christmas on Fifth has made a 21-year journey, bringing traditions back each time while also welcoming new activities for the festive day.

The tradition has its roots in the very first Kappa Omega Tau (KOT) Christmas tree lighting, which took place in 1967.

“Back in the fall of 1967, going toward the Christmas season, there was no Christmas decoration on campus at all,” Dr. Alton Hassell, Baylor alumnus and retired professor of chemistry, said.

Hassell, a junior at the time, said he and his fellow KOT brothers wanted to do something about the lack of decoration.

“We went out into the countryside and cut down probably about a six-foot tree,” Hassell said.

KOT set up the tree between Old Main and Carroll Library, Hassell said, gathering around it to read the Christmas story and sing hymns.

“The first year, we probably didn’t have a dozen people other than girlfriends and the KOT team members,” Hassell said. “It was just not a big deal.”

Fast-forward 55 years, and the present-day tradition of Christmas on Fifth draws an average of 10,000 people each year, according to Jordy Dickey, senior associate director of Student Activities.

“Christmas on Fifth has been a long-standing tradition here on campus,” Dickey said. “Not only do we get to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, but our community comes together and you just feel the hope of the season. You feel the joy of the season, [and] you feel the peace of the season.”

In addition to annual Christmas on Fifth staples — including a live nativity, carriage rides, a petting zoo and photos with Santa — Dickey said this year’s Dec. 1 celebration will feature new sights and activities.

“Each year, I would say it gets a little bit bigger,” Dickey said. “And you definitely start to see new elements that are introduced into the tradition.”

Dickey said a “snow zone” on Fountain Mall will create a “winter wonderland feel, even if the weather is not perfectly crisp.” Also, decorations — including a trail of lights — will fill the entirety of campus.

“There’ll be 10 times as many lights on campus to just really make that a spectacular kind of environment,” Dickey said.

Christmas movie lovers can head to the Bill Daniel Student Center, which will be decked out with a different movie in each room, Dickey said. A full list of activities is available on Baylor’s website.

A feature unique to this year’s festivities is a showcase of Baylor professor Dr. Michael Foley’s new book, “Why We Kiss Under the Mistletoe: Christmas Traditions Explained.” This will take place from 3:30 to 10 p.m. on the first floor of the SUB. Foley will be signing copies of his book as well.

“Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve always been interested in Christmas customs,” Foley said.

Foley said his curiosity led him to publish an account examining the following question: What are all the Christmas customs out there, and where do they come from?

“My big hope is that my book encourages Christmas merriment wherever it is read,” Foley said.

KOT’s Christmas tree lighting and concert will run from 8 to 9:30 p.m. in the Quadrangle, capping off the night of celebration.

Austin junior and KOT Christmas on Fifth chair Colby Todd said he first attended Christmas on Fifth as a child with his parents, who are Baylor alumni.

“[As a kid], seeing the whole campus become this awesome Christmas sort of fair was great,” Todd said.

University chaplain Dr. Burt Burleson will be kicking off the Christmas tree lighting ceremony with a message, followed by a concert. However, Todd said KOT will not yet reveal the band performing because the contract is still being finalized.

“We’re really excited about this band, this artist that’s coming,” Todd said. “I think a lot of Baylor students will be really excited to hear about it.”

Todd said the 37-and-a-half-foot tree, which is in its second year of use by Baylor, will be lit as the band plays Christmas songs.

“It lights up, and I feel like everybody’s just in awe,” Todd said. “I think it’s just a reminder for us that there’s something greater than Christmas, and that’s the Lord and his provision over us and that he was able to bring Jesus onto this Earth.”

Todd said people can support KOT’s philanthropy partner for the event, Unbound Waco, which fights sex trafficking, by purchasing event merchandise. It will be for sale at tables across campus during the week leading up to Dec. 1 and on the day of the celebration.

Christmas on Fifth is not the only university event ushering in the holiday season, as Rineyville, Ky., senior Jacob Maddox said All-University Thanksgiving will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 16 on Fountain Mall.

Maddox, one of the student leads of the event, said students and staff will receive a free traditional Thanksgiving meal in addition to games and entertainment.

“This year, Student Foundation is partnering with the Baylor Store to conduct a ‘Get a Meal, Give a Meal’ campaign,” Maddox said. “Students are able to donate their guests meal swipes to help fight food insecurity and hunger on Baylor’s campus. Guest swipes will be collected at the dining halls starting [Nov. 10] and go through the actual event.”

As preparation for the holiday season ramps up, Dickey said it will be the people present who make the experience.

“What makes it really special is the Baylor community, and so that is what we look forward to,” Dickey said. “You can set the stage. You can have the experience ready. But it’s really the Baylor community, that when you come together, that truly is what makes it the most magical time.”