Christmas tree on campus during founding festival 2019

Founding Fest: Coming Together to Celebrate

Written by Katarzyna Ignatik

There wasn’t any Christmas snow yet, and it was the middle of hell week, but for one night Hillsdale’s campus was transformed—with the help of cozy lighting, crowds of students and families, and an enormous Christmas tree.

Earlier in the semester, Hillsdale had held an elaborate gala for friends of the College to celebrate the dedication of the new Christ Chapel and the opening of the Four Pillars Campaign, as well as the College’s 175th anniversary. However, Hillsdale wanted to give everyone connected to the College a chance to celebrate. So Founding Fest was born—a large winter festival on the College quad to which students, faculty, and staff were invited.

The Student Activities Office started preparing for the festival weeks before. During hell week, every time students stumbled tiredly out of the library it seemed that a new tent had popped up on the quad. Each had a banner decorated with pine tree graphics and announcing an attraction: “Food,” “Crafts,” “Alpacas.” If students dashed into the student union for a quick bagel between study sessions, they walked in under an even larger pine tree banner advertising the festival. Every day saw a new festive addition to the quad area in front of the chapel: a behemoth wreath hanging over the chapel entryway, a large pine tree decorated with oversize red bulbs and ribbons. The College took to social media to hype up the event, which had its own visually aesthetic account on Instagram. “Mondays suck,” a caption read under one post, “but we’ll have an ice rink at Founding Fest, so…”

Founding Fest kicked off with Christmas carols in the chapel, and we were encouraged to stand and sing with the leading choir. People wore warm sweaters and jeans, but the group leading Christmas carols wore green, silver, red, and the occasional Santa hat. The building was full. Some stapled pamphlets with music on them were passed around, but there weren’t nearly enough for all the people who showed up. Whole rows of singers pulled up lyrics to carols like “On Jordan’s Bank” on their phones so they could follow along.
Right outside the doors to the chapel, I passed a tent of Christmas decoration-making on my left and a makeshift ice-skating rink the size of a large living room on my right. For partiers in need of refreshment, there awaited a whole tent full of desserts, from cherry-topped buttercream cupcakes to spiced apple strudel. A student picked out a red-shirted gingerbread man and took a bite. “This actually tastes really good,” she said before drifting back out to the festivities.

The largest tent held long tables decorated with candles and wreaths. Ubiquitous string lights cast a golden glow over piles of bread lying next to chili and toppings. As the food tent filled up, the connecting alcohol tent (guarded by people checking IDs) also opened, offering mulled wine and companionship. Their hot buttered rum topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce led me to think that this is what would happen if Starbucks sold alcoholic beverages.

Kids screamed happily as large Clydesdales came jingling up the wide college walkways, pulling a carriage bedecked with Christmas lights. Another attraction that inspired excited screams from participants was the snow globe bouncy house, enjoyed by students, the families of faculty and staff, and even college president Larry Arnn and his wife, Penny.
At the end of the night, as visitors had their fill of carbs and hot drinks and drifted off to continue working on papers or put their kids to bed, the hired pianists put on some DJ music, and a few college students started dancing. My friends and I noticed some kids near the edge of the tent, dancing apart by themselves. We looked at each other and motioned for the kids (the young children of a professor) to come over and join us, and so they did, showing off their moves to the appreciative yells of college students.

Walking away afterwards, I saw the alpacas outside their enclosure, and a group of people, both alpaca owners and helpful bystanders, stretching out their arms to try to form a human cage to guide the alpacas back to their trailer. Three of the alpacas broke loose and galloped somewhat less than majestically across the quad, people of all ages and sizes scattering and bunching together while running after them.
With this moment of collaboration, Founding Fest came to a fitting close: an evening of students, professors, staff, families, and visitors coming together to sing, eat, dance, play, and help each other celebrate.

Katarzyna IgnatikKatarzyna Ignatik, ’20, studies English. She strives to live optimistically and deeply, with a healthy sense of the hilarity of life. Katarzyna believes that the world should have more genuine community, witty conversation, and appreciation for pleasant little things like green grass and bread pudding.

Published in January 2020