Glimmering plastic branches covered in lights and ornaments tower over students in both the Student Activity Center and Texas Union Building. They belong to two Christmas trees, which remind government freshman Alyssa Aguile the holiday season is fast approaching.
“It definitely reminds me that Christmas is right around the corner,” Aguile said. “It’s a good way to remind myself that there’s happiness out there even though we’re super stressed with finals.”
University Unions, the department in charge of both buildings, has records of a Christmas tree being on display in the presidential lobby of the Texas Union during the holiday season since the 1950s. The SAC’s tree has been a part of the building’s holiday traditions since the building was built in 2010.
James Buckley, University Unions facilities and operations director, said the trees are not meant to be religious but are rather a festive way to celebrate the upcoming holiday season.
“Technically it is a secular symbol,” Buckley said. “If you look around our community and you look around the United States, you’ll find Christmas trees in banks, in government offices, shopping malls, McDonald’s. It’s just a symbol of the holiday season bearing nothing, at least with our trees, nothing religious. It’s just lights and ornaments to celebrate the holidays.”
The plastic trees typically last around 10 years before they need to be replaced, Buckley said. Each tree is kept in one of the many storage areas inside its respective building. The outstanding height of these plastic trees means their segments have to be taken apart by maintenance staff in order to move them to and from the display area.
The Union’s Christmas tree is typically set up in early November in order to prepare for the Madrigal Dinner, an annual student-produced play and choir concert performed in mid-November.
Kyanna Dunn, the producer for this year’s Madrigal Dinner, said the tree is a prominent aesthetic attribute to the show.
“The Christmas tree doesn’t necessarily represent Madrigal, but it represents a part of Madrigal as a holiday-themed show,” Dunn said. “It’s how you know it’s about to happen, that is what I see it as.”
The SAC’s tree is assembled later in November. Both trees are decorated by staff and students during a decoration party open to the public that takes place after the tree is put together.
“It’s an opportunity for our students and staff to come together and have some fun decorating the trees,” Buckley said. “Usually we’ll have some light refreshments and music, it just provides a little opportunity for a little community building.”
Aguile took part in the decoration ceremony to take advantage of the free breakfast and help out with the assembly process.
“It was a really nice time,” Aguile said. “We had Christmas music and it was just a really cool thing putting this pretty tree up and knowing that people were going to take pictures with it. I really like that, knowing that we did that and people are now posting pictures on social media with our tree.”