Growing up in the South, I always enjoyed Christmas decorations – for the two weeks that people left them up, that is. Now that I live in the North and walk to work through north campus, I get to enjoy the decorations longer, much longer, beginning in October longer. Well, OK, to be fair, the university did not turn on Christmas lights in October, but in order to have them in place by early December the Physical Plant did have to begin work last month. It’s a big job.

Dr. Susan Alexander

Earlier this month, another sign of Christmas appeared. The big stone pots sprouted evergreen sprays and other seasonal greenery. One morning as I walked between the chapel and the res halls, I spied an alien twig in the pots. I went closer. Lo and behold, it was a magnolia shoot. A real magnolia – not a Japanese magnolia, not a tulip tree, not a northern pretender at all, but a real magnolia. My heart turned to grits – I love magnolias. This twig even had a vestigial flower on it.

I like our other Christmas decorations, too. Those huge white poinsettias in Schulze Hall are nothing short of glamorous. But magnolias … the only thing that makes me happier is the equally out of place and equally beloved redbud trees that bloom by the library every spring – and maybe when the Christmas lights first flicker on.

On Dec. 4, the switch will be flipped and those lights will twinkle. As is only right, St. Thomas waits until after Thanksgiving for this. Still, we get our money’s worth out of those lights. With short winter days, the lights are on when we go out in the evening and are still on when we return for work or early classes the next morning.

Admittedly, some Minnesotans get more use of their lights than St. Thomas does. I noticed red and green LEDs shining as early as the second week of November. I admit to putting mine up but not leaving them on that weekend – you never know how long the good weather will last. Best to string the lights before the snow flies.

But like the Southerner that I am, I turn them off after New Year’s Day. Not so, my neighbors. Christmas lights become Valentine lights and they morph into St. Patrick’s Day lights. Then, maybe add a few blue and white ones to the reds for the Glorious Fourth. Why not Christmas in July?

After all, it’s the spirit that counts.