The 29th annual Sottile House tree lighting ceremony is kicking off the holiday season on Monday, December 1, 2014 at the corner of Green and College Way. Accompanied by music by the College of Charleston Jazz Ensemble, Santa Claus will be there for wish-making and photos at 4 p.m., and the fanfare will continue with a holiday sing-along, plenty of festive treats and performances by the N.E. Miles Early Childhood Development Center, the College of Charleston Concert and Gospel choirs and the CofC Trippintones.
Sottile Tree History
The Sottile tree is being lit for the 48th time since it was first decorated with oversized lights by the Sottile family in 1921. It was the first tree in Charleston to be decorated with electric lights and it drew throngs of spectators for the next 20 years – until the nationwide blackout was mandated following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But – after 45 years of the tree’s lights being out – the grandchildren of J.C. and Alberta Sottile Long conducted the College’s inaugural Sottile House tree lighting ceremony in 1986.
To look at the Sottile tree lighting ceremony as a CofC tradition is an understatement; since its first lighting in 1921, this tree and its spirit have withstood just not wars and catastrophic manmade events, but natural events like Hurricane Hugo (which caused a growth spurt) and even threats from the College itself, which, in 2003, wished to replace the less-than-robust cedar of Lebanon with another tree.
Outraged students and faculty protested, petitioning the College to spare the tree that they noted “weathered ice storms, droughts and hurricanes and has been delightfully festooned with Christmas lights for years.”
Biology professor Phil Dustan was part of that tree-saving alliance and even took a thin coring of the Sottile tree. The coring detailed Mother Nature’s not-so-obvious story, including various atmospheric and geological fluctuations.
Cedars of Lebanon, Dustan notes, have that traditional fir-tree shape when they’re young, so it probably looked more like a Christmas tree when the Sottiles first decorated it. But, as these trees age, they end up with bare trunks and big lopsided heads on them.
“If you were 100 years old and stood out in the weather all the time, you’d look beat up, too,” says Dustan. “Even though it’s strangely shaped and weird, it’s part of the College.”
And so, in April 2003, the motion to protect this “outstanding, unique member of our campus arboretum” passed unanimously, thus upholding the College’s special holiday tradition.