The sun will have begun to set behind buildings in downtown Staunton. The air will be crisp and cold. Young women, in their Sunday best, will make their way to First Presbyterian Church across the street from the campus of Mary Baldwin University. As they enter, there will be whispered ‘hellos’ and ‘how’s the studying going?’ as they settle into velvet-cushioned pews. The next day will be the first day of final exams, but this night will be a celebration.
The event will begin, as it has for the past 27 years, with an opening prayer, followed by songs and psalms. The Mary Baldwin University Concert Choir, Madrigals, and Anointed Voices of Praise will fill the sanctuary with Christmas carols. Honored members of faculty and staff, and student leaders will recite treasured holiday readings.
After much joyous music, those in attendance will file out of the church and make their way up to the Lyda B. Hunt Dining Hall. The walkway will be lined with beautiful luminaries, a tradition that began in the 70s by then Mary Baldwin president, Virginia Lester. What is to come is always worth the walk.
When Christmas Cheer began in 1977, there was a community reception in the lounge of the Samuel R. Spencer Residence Hall after the service. In 1988 a new tradition was created so that the students who normally worked in the dining hall could also enjoy the evening. This ritual of faculty and staff members serving students ended in the late 90s and then began the Traditional Christmas Buffet and Decadent Dessert Party. The practice today is a festive holiday buffet for all students who want to attend. The spread is a cornucopia of Christmas delights — carved roasted turkey, Virginia ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, beets, peas and pearl onions, candied sweet potatoes, apple salad, hot rolls, and more pies and cakes than you can imagine.
Christmas Cheer fell on December 5 this year. The church service was open to all faculty, staff, students, and members of the local community that wanted to attend.
Mary Baldwin’s concert choir repertoire consists of mostly traditional choir music, is directed by Donald Kruger and is made up of about 30 freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Madrigals is a group of 10 selected singers, directed by Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music Pam Beasley, which performs mainly madrigal and a capella music. The Anointed Voices of Praise is directed by Assistant to the Dean of African American and Multicultural Affairs Tiffany Riddick ’04. The 30 students are a traveling, music ministry whose purpose is to promote spiritual growth while fostering an appreciation of traditional and contemporary gospel music.