St. John’s Marks Start of Christmas Season with Winter Carnival, Tree Lighting

December 5, 2023

End-of-semester anxiety temporarily melted away on December 4 at St. John’s University—replaced by Christmas cheer and holiday celebrations—as the University welcomed its 32nd annual Winter Carnival and Christmas tree lighting.

Hundreds of students, faculty, alumni, administrators, and staff gathered on the Great Lawn for one of the most popular events on the campus calendar. The celebration featured performances by the Voices of Victory St. John’s gospel choir and the St. John’s Kickline, and culminated with the lighting of the University Christmas tree and a Fireworks by Grucci show.

Earlier, attendees thrilled to performances by the University Dance Team and the St. John’s-based Latin dance company Sensación in the D’Angelo Center. Among those making the rounds were Christmas icons Santa and Mrs. Claus, and the Grinch himself.

“It’s a great way of bringing the St. John’s community together,” said Frank Peluso, Director, Office of Academic Service-Learning, aka Santa. “For me, in my position, it’s a great way to stay in touch with the student population and enhance their experience.”

The Christmas tree lighting capped a week of Winter Carnival events that included a Santa’s workshop, a nonalcoholic paint-and-sip event, Winter Wonderland movie night, and more. St. John’s Staten Island, NY, campus celebrated its Winter Carnival and Christmas tree lighting on November 30. 

Other Christmas-themed activities on the Queens, NY, campus include the St. John’s Chamber Music Society’s annual Winter Concert on Thursday, December 7, at 7 p.m. in St. Thomas More Church, and the Lessons and Carols program featuring music and scripture readings that chronicle the Advent season, also at St. Thomas More Church, on Saturday, December 9, at 5:30 p.m.

“I’ve always loved the Christmas season,” said first-year student Cadence Ciorciari of Maspeth, NY, who is studying Criminal Justice at The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies. “Everyone here is coming together for one big, happy occasion. You can meet new people and not just bond with your closest friends.”

Members of the St. John’s community were united in their excitement. With final exams looming, students seemed to most appreciate an opportunity to step away momentarily from studying and celebrate the Christmas season before dispersing for the semester break.

“It rarely happens that the entire community can be at the same place at the same time; everyone is so busy studying,” said first-year Communication Arts student Markella Kiriakes of Roslyn Heights, NY. “An event like this really unites the campus.”

“It brings the community together around all the performers and the organizations that take part,” added Gabriella Onesto of Merrick, NY, a junior who is studying Government and Politics at St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “And I imagine it is great for the alumni who also get to participate. It’s great to see all the alumni here.”

Mother Nature could not have been more cooperative, unless you preferred some seasonally appropriate snow. Instead, the mild evening was complemented by clear skies, making it an ideal night for the annual fireworks performance.

The Christmas tree lighting began with a prayer from University President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., who asked that the St. John’s community “welcome Christ among us,” and that “the light of this tree guide us all to the perfect light.”

Students and alumni then enthusiastically counted down the seconds until the Christmas tree lighting.

“It’s such a beautiful night and a great opportunity to rekindle some memories,” said Angela Lavarello ’19C, ’22G, of College Point, NY. “I had such a great experience during my years at St. John’s that I come back to this every year.”

For a small, charitable donation or toy contribution, alumni could enjoy a private viewing of the Queens Christmas tree lighting and fireworks show, complete with hot chocolate and selfies with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Sandro Tanis ’04CPS of Rosedale, NY, brought along his son Pierce, 8, who posed for pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus (i.e., Sr. Patricia Evanick, D.C. ’97GEd, Campus Minister for Faith Formation and Leadership). The two then gazed admiringly at the fireworks overhead.

“I’m forever indebted to this University,” Mr. Tanis, a technology executive, said. “I love coming back here, even more so now that I have a son who wants to see where his dad went to college.”

Might Pierce one day follow his dad’s St. John’s path? “I think so,” Pierce said. “I love it here.”