Deck the Hilltop


By Chelsea Burwell

Dropping temperatures and falling leaves across Healy Lawn signal not only the end of the semester, but the beginning of the holiday season.

Behind the scenes, Georgetown’s facilities management team plays Santa’s helpers, decking the halls all around campus.

“The carpentry and roofing crews hang the star on the Healy tower,” says Marc Smith, landscape and grounds manager of facilities management. “From there, we hang up the wreaths all across campus—above Lauinger Library, in the President’s Office, at McDonough Gymnasium, and the Leavey Center. Setting up the Christmas display sets the tone for the wintertime.”

The landscaping crew from facilities place the star atop Healy Hall.Hundreds from the Georgetown community gather around as President DeGioia and children of faculty and staff light the Christmas tree in Dahlgren Quad.Jordan Lewis, from facilities, cuts the rope off the 18-foot Christmas tree, as fellow facilities team member Chris Brown assists on the ground.


While students delight in seeing “Hoyas” spelled out in lights at the front gates, the real treat is at the heart of campus.

On Dec. 1, as darkness began to fall, hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and their families packed Dahlgren Quad for a beloved annual tradition: the lighting of the campus Christmas tree. The “five, four, three, two, one” countdown to the lighting is captured in cell phone selfies, and everyone enjoys cookies, hot chocolate, and entertainment from student music and drama groups.

Helena Vaughan (C’18) says she will miss attending the annual holiday event after she graduates in the spring.

“It’s such a great way to kick off the last few weeks of school before finals start and I really love how it brings the entire community together — anyone from faculty to students, from administrators to children of the staff. It’s just a festive and warm atmosphere.

“Holidays are about recognizing the joy, the little things in life and the humanity in all of us that we don’t get a chance to celebrate every day.”

Getting the Tannenbaum tradition just right begins nearly a year in advance. Michael Pontti, superintendent of landscaping for facilities management, revealed that the tree selection process began once last year’s tree came down.

“We actually selected this year’s tree back in January or February,” says Pontti.

“We definitely don’t want a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but we tried to make sure the fullness of the branches and height were just right for this tree. ”

A few days before Thanksgiving, the tree—this year, an 18-foot Douglas fir—arrived on campus after a 30-mile trip from the nursery in Ashton, Md.

Jordan Lewis, maintenance mechanic in the low voltage electrical unit for facilities management, reveals what it takes to illuminate the tree. 

“It’s normally about 17 strings of lights”, he says. This comes to more than 620 feet and 2,550 LED bulbs. For the past eight years, Lewis has been responsible for wrapping the lights around the tree.

Smith says that working alongside diverse teams within facilities provides an opportunity to reconnect, even for just one project throughout the year.

“This time of year is when everyone from facilities gets involved, so it’s kind-of fun.”

Are there any “Bah-Humbug” consequences to days of making Georgetown glow with holiday cheer? With all the effort put into decorating campus, Smith says that the holiday fever subsides when asked to deck the halls at home.

“I don’t want to set up the Christmas tree when I get home, since I’ve already put up three trees here with lights.”