Scripps News LifeHolidays and Celebrations


University to continue tradition of lighting 136-year-old tree

It takes a lot of work, but every year, an Oregon university places holiday lights on an iconic 127-foot-tall tree on campus.
President Jesse Peters is hoisted to the top of the iconic tree.
Posted at 12:20 PM, Nov 28, 2023

Every year since 1967, Western Oregon University lights one of the largest trees in the U.S. for the holidays. That tradition will continue this week as the 127-foot-tall sequoia will be adorned with holiday lights from top to bottom. 

The tree was planted by the university's class of 1887 outside of WOU's Campbell Hall. It is among a group of famous Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant sequoia) trees throughout the Western U.S. The tallest of these trees is the General Sherman tree, located in California's Sequoia National Park. 

The lighting of the tree draws thousands as it also culminates with a parade. Officials light the tree after using cranes and heavy machinery to hoist the lights to the top of the tree.

At the end of the parade, dignitaries gather and the young winner of an essay contest is given the opportunity to press a lever to flip on the lights. 

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University President Jesse Peters told The Oregonian that he had an opportunity to place lights at the top of the tree last year. 

“I was less scared than I thought I would be because I was so focused on not dropping my phone,” he said. “Some of the workers get into the branches, and they’re harnessed while they’re setting the rigging that holds on the lights. It’s quite a production.”

While Peters told the newspaper it costs about $5,600 a year to light the tree, he said the expense is worth it. 

“I really like the way it connects Western in particular and how we’re trying to be a community-focused institution that welcomes and celebrates everybody,” he said. “It’s nice to see the human connection, the human contact, gathering together in community to celebrate each other in the spirit of lighting that tree.”

And despite the age of the tree, the particular species of tree could mean the tradition could last for years to come. Some giant sequoia trees have survived for thousands of years, according to the National Park Service.