There are numerous outlets at Christendom for students to express and develop their artistic creativity, from plays and musicals to creating their own on-campus clubs. One of the chief areas in recent years has become the college’s annual Christmas Formal, where increasingly elaborate themes have resulted in students constructing cathedrals, towns, train stations, and more inside the college’s gymnasium, all for the enjoyment of the college community. This year, students embarked on an ambitious theme — a medieval Christmas — that required the construction of a castle, a tavern, and more, resulting in a beautiful evening and an incredible forming of camaraderie amongst the students involved.
Christmas Formal has been an annual tradition at Christendom for decades, evolving over time into a special dinner and dance that brings the entire college community together for one evening. Originally, the decorations were beautiful yet simple, with the gymnasium typically filled with large pine trees and elaborate lighting setups. Over the past several years, however, the students began pitching more detailed themes to the college’s Student Activities Council — themes that required construction, artistic, and organizational skills that were more akin to an intricate theatrical production, not a dinner and dance.
“Each year, the senior class officers choose a theme for Christmas Formal, and as time goes on I’m continually amazed at how they execute these ideas,” says director of student activities Marilyn Charba, who oversees the formal. “Whether it be a New York City skyline or a castle, Formal demands a high variety of skill levels, through construction, artistic talent, and just organization. Some students have never been a part of a project of this size but are eager to learn the skills to make it come to life. Without that eagerness, and the eagerness of upperclassmen to teach these skills to younger classes, Formal would not be the huge success it is each year. These students want to create an experience that wows the college community, and that desire drives them to do amazing things. It’s a wonderful outlet for the students who enjoy taking creative license and finding a tangible way to provide a special night for the rest of the Christendom community.”
Themes in recent years have included “A New York Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Polar Express,” and “A Christmas Carol.” These themes demanded hours of intense labor that students partook in willingly and eagerly, but perhaps none more so than this year. The senior class, which decides upon the theme each year, chose “A Medieval Christmas” early on, thanks to the many design opportunities it afforded, but also due to the college’s roots in Catholic tradition, as evidenced by the name of the college’s gym: St. Louis the Crusader Gymnasium.
Students with backgrounds in construction and engineering were called upon to design a castle as the centerpiece of the formal. Such a task was a hefty one, but also points to the value of the formal at Christendom. While Christendom does not offer degrees in engineering, construction, or architectural design, it does offer students the opportunity to learn and implement these skills in a practical way, whether that be in set design for theatrical productions or in creating a castle at formal.
These same students took it upon themselves to find the lumber for the construction of the castle, a medieval tavern, medieval shops, and more, buying and utilizing a sawmill to mill timber right from Christendom’s own backyard. The time spent doing that labor resulted in an authenticity in the design work that helped transform the various rooms of the gymnasium into a medieval town.
Hours were spent not only constructing the formal but painting it as well, giving an outlet to the many talented artists at Christendom as well. Some painted stained-glass windows, while others brought houses and the castle to life.
The amount of work on display was awe-inspiring, as was the passion and commitment of the students involved. Senior class president Mary Katherine Mooney was stunned by the end result, but even more so by the talent — and willingness to use it for the enjoyment of others — revealed by the student body.
“Christmas Formal was one of the most inspiring projects that I have been a part of during my time at Christendom College,” says Mooney. “Over the three days of preparation, over 150 students came to help with set up. The generosity and creativity of each one of those students totally amazed me. What began as ideas and sketches turned into a 24-foot Medieval castle surrounded by castle walls and Tudor housing followed by Christmas Markets, a tavern, and a wine cellar. It was incredible to see the gym transformed by the talents of our student body. There is no doubt that my favorite part was seeing everyone work alongside each other. Whether someone was picking up a fallen Christmas tree or painting stones for the castle walls, there was a constant attitude of unification. I’m so proud to be part of such a hard-working and creative community.”
Christmas Formal is one of many opportunities the college provides for students to utilize and develop their artistic skills, but it is also one of the most important, bringing together a quarter of the student body to work towards a common goal. During this season of giving, Christendom students’ willingness to sacrifice their time and effort for the rest of the community is a gift, and one that the college is grateful for throughout each and every year.