CHRISTMAS CANDLE-LIGHTING TRADITION

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 16: Special and Annual Events

CHRISTMAS CANDLE LIGHTING TRADITION

In 1949, the last year of the Boarding School, a student described the Candle-Lighting Ceremony that was practiced at Pine Mountain School in the later decades of the School. The brief description in the 1949 Pine Cone, the student newsletter, follows:

Faces aglow with anticipation, the girls of Big Log all freshmen gathered together downstairs in Laurel House on Wednesday night. Wearing white dresses, they made a lovely sight to behold as they walked slowly up the stairs singing “Silent Night”. Two of the girls moved apart from the others and went about the darkened dining hall, lighting the two candles on each table. Then in single file the entire group followed the girls with the candles to their places at tables reserved in the center of the room. This was ushered in, in true holiday spirit, and at the same time in the spirit of holiness that Christmastide symbolizes, the week of festivities at Pine Mountain.

THE HOLLY AND THE IVY

Downstairs in Laurel House on Thursday, December 16, the West Wind girls stood very quietly, awaiting the time when they would go into the dining room to sing their traditional carols as they hung garlands and wreaths. The junior and senior girls, dressed in their peasant costumes, walked two by two up the stairs, singing “The Holly and the Ivy.” At the center arch between the waiting room and the dining room the juniors sang the verses of the carol as the seniors ascended the stairs to the balcony to hang the garland of ivy from the balcony rail. 

Just before the serving of dessert, the freshman and co-op girls at West Wind went in pairs up the stairs to the dining room. One pair of girls carried wreaths, while those behind them carried candles, alternating wreaths and candles all along the procession. Each girl was singing the cheerful “Ye Shepherds, Leave the Care of Flocks so Fleecy,” keeping in step with the music as she sang. 

As the carolers entered the dining room, everything was very quiet. On each of the tables, two candles were burning, lighting up the faces of singers and those who watched. Wreaths were hung in each of the windows and then the group walked slowly through the dining room and down the stairs, singing all the while until only a faint sound of voices could be heard. Thus, another lovely Pine Mountain tradition faded into the past.

– Virginia Walker, Co-op

In 1940 Margaret Motter, a staff member, describes a variation of the same ceremony:

The next four evenings – A special feature occurs in the dining room at supper hour after we gather there and take our accustomed places. Monday evening, we find on our table two unlighted candles. After everyone is seated, the lights are turned off and just at that moment, from the court outside, we hear voices of the least ones in school, singing “Silent Night.” During the singing of this carol the children, dressed in white, enter, carrying light tapers. They go singing to each table and light the candles till the room is “all aglow with [fr.?] light.”

After supper a group of children dress in gay red capes with hoods and enter singing, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” They each carry strings of woodsy things, which they’ve gathered and strung and, singing as they go from table to table, they trim the small Christmas trees. An example of trim reveals the ingenuity of the mountain child in using what he can find about him. All sorts of seed pods, sycamore balls, witch hazel, red berries, blue berries, tiny [ros.?] fungus, even popcorn – in short, anything that can be used.

Tuesday evening, after we have gathered around the table, we hear voices from the distance singing the old English carol, “The Holly and the Ivy.” About 20 girls appear on the balcony which extends around three sides of the dining room. As they reach a certain point of the carol, they lift over the railing of the balcony a garland of laurel which they have made. May I remind you that mountain people call laurel, “ivy,” as described in England years ago. This carol has a special significance in the dining hall called Laurel House