Even though this is only the 13th year of the annual St. Thomas tree lighting ceremony, it’s a tradition not even a weak economy can dim.
St. Thomas switched to new LED lights two years ago to save money and energy. LED lights use two-thirds less energy than the previous bulbs and cost St. Thomas a little more than $1,000 a year to bring some holiday spirit to campus.
“You know the feeling of Christmas camaraderie, and it gets you more in the feeling for the season,” said senior Caitlin Houlton. “It kind of brightens us a little since so much of our time is depressing because you know the economy and we’re all trying to scrape up our tuition dollars.”
About 31,000 bulbs are lighting up St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus this year and will do so until mid-January. Not only are the LED lights more energy efficient, but they also last longer than the blue incandescent bulbs that adorn trees along the sidewalk connecting the upper and lower quads.
Dan Hoffmann, St. Thomas’ electrical foreman, said he only had to replace about a dozen LED lights from last year and expects to use the lights for the next 10 to 15 years. The traditional incandescents are replaced every year, costing st. Thomas $3,000 this year alone.
St. Thomas spends about $25 a day to keep the trees lit, but students like Houlton said that’s a small price to pay to bring some Christmas cheer.
“I came from a little town in northern Minnesota and Christmas lights are a really big deal there,” Houlton said. “We have the neighborhood competitions and downtown gets decorated, so it’s almost like keeping a little piece of home in a way.”
For Hoffmann, after putting up 31,000 lights, St. Thomas’ display has come to replace the lighting decorations he used to do at home.
“I don’t put them up at home anymore,” said Hoffmann. “By the time we get done hanging lights here at Christmas at st. Thomas, I don’t put any up at home anymore. I come here and look at them.”
Ashley Bolkcom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org