“Five, four, three, two, ONE!”
Thousands of students and families cheered as lights wrapped around the giant Campus Commons Christmas tree glittered and glowed, while fireworks fizzed and popped overhead to the tune of Christmas classics.
The 42-foot display residing in the Campus Commons wasn’t always so grand.
Before TCU opened the Commons in 2008, students held small celebrations around a 20-foot tree in front of Sadler Hall where they lit candles and sang carols. They were quaint gatherings that barely resemble the Christmas extravaganzas students enjoy now.
Brad Thompson, the assistant director of student activities, said the event’s expansion has a lot to do with the increasing volume of students and community members the campus has to accommodate.
Thompson recounted how nine years ago there were about 1,500 attendees and there’s been an approximately 20 to 30 percent increase every year since. The 2017 lighting hosted more than 9,000 guests and was advertised as a public event for the first time.
“Now it’s a major Fort Worth community event,” he said. “We have a lot of alums, a lot of people that are not affiliated with TCU come every year. It’s very much changed the dynamic of the event that we do.”
Bigger crowds call for bigger budgets. The SGA budget allocated $11,930 for the tree lighting in 2009, and the expenses have continued to stack up with lightings routinely surpassing $40,000 in recent years.
This year’s total cost set a new high of $75,000 – more than TCU’s expected total cost of attendance for a year.
The largest portion of this sum goes toward the $30,000 Christmas tree, which is shipped to the school and must be lifted over buildings with a crane to settle into the Commons, and the dazzling firework show that burns up $25,000. In addition to these lighting staples, SGA also brought the folk duo Johnnyswim in as the main music entertainment for the night.
Kyler Tesch, the director of SGA’s The End, co-hosted the lighting and talked about how much he looks forward to the special night every year.
“I get no more joy than seeing kids and families come to the TCU Campus Commons,” he said looking at the vast crowd. “TCU, as a whole, being able to provide that experience for people in the community.”
Thompson calls the lighting a special part of the year for TCU. Despite the expenses and gradual changes, he said the heart of the event hasn’t changed since the early years.
Students can have themselves a merry Christmas, it’s just not so little anymore.