The 12 Days of a Baylor Christmas

by Sylvia Hernandez, BULAA Project Archivist

‘Tis the season to decorate trees, bake some cookies, visit our loved ones, and sing along to our favorite holiday tunes. Undoubtedly at least one version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” will grace our ears before the season ends, but which one? Will it be more traditional in the style of Burl Ives or more outlandish in the way of Jeff Foxworthy? How about one you may not know exists? How about a Baylor Football version?

Walter Abercrombie displaying his moves on a carry against Texas Tech.

The 1980 Baylor Football team finished the season as Southwest Conference Champions with an invitation to play in the 1981 Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day. Support for the team was shown with the creation of memorabilia – think bumper stickers, Dr Pepper bottles, t-shirts, etc.—and a few songs. Yes! More than one.

Tackling, catching, passing; all are represented in “The 12 Days of a Baylor Christmas” as follows:

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, Grant Teaff gave to me:

Robert Bledsoe kicking against Rice.
  • The Bears high in Cotton,
  • Joe Campbell tackling,
  • Doak Field Crushing,
  • Buzzy Nelson snapping,
  • McGeary blocking field goals,
  • McElroy’s interceptions,
  • Radar Holt catching,
  • Ab-er-crom-bie’s moves…
  • Singletary sacking,
  • Jeffrey throwing passes,
  • Robert Bledsoe kicking,
  • And a Baylor Bears Cotton Bowl Team.”

With lyrics written by Jean Kettler, Mack Hayes, Sandra Hayes, and vocals sung by Darrel John, the tune conjures memories from over 35 years ago as it recounts the feats of athleticism displayed by our beloved Bears. Although the Cotton Bowl didn’t end as hoped, songs and other items stand as the testament of ongoing support for our athletic programs.

Author’s Note: This song was played on local radio and released in local record stores. If you have a copy, let us know, we would love to hear it!

Christmas Spirit at Baylor

Although it rarely snows in Waco, these Baylor students had quite a bit of fun on their snow day! Check out our Flickr album for more snow day photos by clicking on this photo.

by Joseph Lipham, Student Assistant

As the chilling winter winds approach Baylor’s campus and the ominous cloud of finals looms near, so does one of Baylor’s most beloved traditions. Christmas on 5th Street ushers in the jolliness of Christmas right in the heart of the Baylor campus. While students are away spending Thanksgiving with their families, the campus is adorned with oversized candy canes, ornaments and as many Christmas decorations as one could possibly imagine. Returning home from Thanksgiving to find their campus completely remodeled into a Winter Wonderland, it is no wonder why this is every student’s favorite time of the year.

These traditions takes place on 5th Street, the central street on campus that runs by the Student Union Building (SUB) and Fountain Mall. Taking place on November 30 the every year, Christmas on 5th kicks off the winter holiday. A variety of activities are set up at Fountain Mall, including a petting zoo filled with animals and “Santa’s Workshop.” There’s even a life-sized Nativity scene set up in front of the SUB. While these activities take place throughout the entirety of the day, the most exciting and event begins roughly around 8:15 P.M each year.

Christmas Tree Lighting program from 1977.

The annual Kappa Omega Tau Christmas Tree Lighting has begun around the same time each year, since it began in 1965. The annual tree lighting is an opportunity to bring Baylor students and faculty together to bask in the bright lights of the ginormous tree. Housed in the center of Burleson Quadrangle, the large Christmas tree is decorated by Kappa Omega Tau and the Department of Student Activities. The tree is adorned with bright white lights and red bows. Accompanying these festive decorations are presents at the base of the tree, donated by Baylor students for children in need.
Christmas on 5th even brings snow to Central Texas; in Vera Daniel Plaza, a snow machine is set up to give students a true Winter Wonderland experience. While the weather may be chilly, and the threat of finals may loom near, Christmas on 5th pulls out nearly all the stops to warm the hearts of all Baylor students and instill the spirit of Christmas into every person who engages in the activities strewn throughout Baylor’s campus.

This year, the festivities will begin at 5:30pm on November 30th. For more information about this event, please visit this website.

If you are an alum who has photographs or materials related to the Christmas Tree Lighting and are interested in sharing these with The Texas Collection, please contact our University Archivist, Leanna Barcelona.

Wassailing with Lily Russell: Christmas at Baylor, 1930s-1950s

By Brian Simmons, Archival Assistant and Digital Input Specialist

Lily Russell, undated photo
Lily Russell, undated photo. (This was taken around the time when she was Dean of the Union Building at Baylor University, 1948-1954.) Lily McIlroy Russell papers.

As last week’s Christmas on Fifth Street and the Christmas tree lighting celebration fade into memory, here at The Texas Collection it has revived nostalgia for Baylor’s Christmas celebrations of yesteryear. The first communal Christmas tree at Baylor originated with Irene Marschall, then current Dean of Women, in 1926. Aided by her assistant, Lily Russell, Marschall’s idea became an event on Fifth Street with the lighting of the tree, a performance by the Glee Club and an appearance by Santa Claus. That same year, Russell wrote a Christmas program that would continue to be performed in the women’s dormitories at Baylor for over a decade.

Materials used in Christmas celebrations at Baylor, circa 1930s
Materials used in Christmas celebrations at Baylor, circa 1930s

Known as “Old Christmas,” it was inspired by Washington Irving’s work of the same title. Performers included dormitory residents, members of student organizations and volunteers. Guests were immediately immersed in the setting after being greeted by cast members in costumes and viewing the decorations that adorned the entry and banquet hall.

Guests were seated and carols were sung until the program, which incorporated a dinner within a dramatic production, began. The dinner included traditional English touches such as wassailing and the Boar’s Head feast. In 1935, Dr. A. J. Armstrong arranged for an antique wassail bowl to add to the authenticity of the event. The event was traditionally held in Burleson Hall, but as the program grew in popularity, a second night was added at Memorial Hall.

"Old Christmas" script
A revised script used in a production of “Old Christmas.” Although the core production remained identical, alterations were made through the years.


"The Boar's Head Carol" sheet music
An arrangement of “The Boar’s Head Carol” that Lily Russell used in the “Old Christmas” production, circa 1930s
Students participating in the decorating of the Baylor University Union Building, 1953
Students participating in the decorating of the Baylor University Union Building, 1953

Lily Russell went on to become Dean of Women in 1931, and she organized not only the “Old Christmas” program but also other Baylor Christmas festivities. Christmas entertainment for students and faculty included dramatic productions, concerts, banquets and dances.

Excerpt from a 1953 letter written by Lily Russell to Mattie Brooks, thanking her for judging the decorating contest.
Excerpt from a 1953 letter written by Lily Russell to Mattie Brooks, thanking her for judging the decorating contest.

After becoming Dean of the Union Building in 1948, Lily Russell found a way to share her passion for entertaining with student groups. She arranged for a competition in which student organizations would decorate the various rooms of the Union for the Christmas Open House event. Once completed, Russell arranged for people from the community to come in and pick their favorite rooms. After tallying the votes, the group with the winning room was presented a gold loving cup by the president of the university at the Open House.

Lily Russell was highly involved in planning a range of events at Baylor, including the centennial celebration in 1945. Visit The Texas Collection to view her collections (including BU Records: Dean of Women (Lily Russell) and BU Records: Dean of the Union Building (Lily Russell) and possibly be inspired by her style to add vintage flair to your next occasion.

A 1929 Saturday Evening Post, which Russell used for costume ideas
Lily Russell often saved clippings from newspapers and magazines for inspiration. This 1929 issue of The Saturday Evening Post includes handwritten notes about costuming for the “Old Christmas” program.


“Burleson and Memorial Girls Plan Two Evenings of Yule Festivities.” The Daily Lariat (Waco, TX), Dec. 17, 1935. Accessed 5 December 2013.

“Burleson Formal Slated Tonight.” The Daily Lariat (Waco, TX), Dec. 21, 1939. Accessed 5 December 2013.

“Burleson, Memorial Will Give Annual Christmas Parties.” The Daily Lariat (Waco, TX), Dec. 15, 1939. Accessed 5 December 2013.

“Dean Marschall Plans Big Christmas Tree For Students.” The Daily Lariat (Waco, TX), Dec. 12, 1926. Accessed 5 December 2013.

“Open House in Union Building Held Tomorrow.” The Baylor Lariat (Waco, TX), Dec. 11, 1953. Accessed 5 December 2013.

Russell, Lily [vertical file]. The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Looking Back at Baylor: Simple Pleasures in Independence

Drawing, Baylor Female College, undated
The columns of the Baylor Female College building are now the iconic remains of the original Baylor campus. They are an important part of the Line Camp experience.

This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in November 1978, then was reprinted in Looking Back at Baylor (1985), a collection of Keeth and Harry Marsh’s historical columns for the Line. Blogging about Texas will periodically feature selections from Looking Back at Baylor, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.

This piece, “Simple Pleasures in Independence,” was selected for our first Looking Back entry because starting this week (and through most of July), Baylor Line Camps will be visiting the site of Baylor’s original campus in Independence. While the social life of the class of 2016 will be quite different from what Margaret Hall Hicks describes below, the community spirit of the Baylor family remains constant.

Margaret Hall Hicks, undated
Margaret Hall Hicks, undated. The Texas Collection houses the Hicks-Hall-Harman Family papers, which includes the complete "Memories of Ancestors" document, a fascinating look at life in Texas in the late 1800s. The photos in this blog come from our photo archives. Researchers are welcome to come and use these records.

In 1871, sixteen-year-old Margaret Hall, who five years earlier had attended Baylor’s preparatory department, returned to the Independence campus as a student at Baylor Female College. She entered enthusiastically into the life of the college, and while she appreciated the school’s scholastic offerings, she also found time to participate in the various social occasions which its calendar afforded.

Many years later, when her own children were grown, Margaret Hall Hicks prepared a personal memoir of some of the events and impressions of her early life. Titled “Memories of Ancestors,” Mrs. Hicks’ memoir vividly recalls her days at Baylor. An excerpt concerning her attendance in 1866 appeared in the Baylor Line of May-June 1967. The following passage, drawn from the period of her later enrollment, relates some of the “simple pleasures” by which Baylor students of the 1870s diverted themselves from their studies.

Baylor Female College, 1884
A different angle on the main building of the Baylor Female College. This 1884 photo was taken just two years before Baylor University left Independence to join with Waco University, and the Female College moved to Belton, ultimately becoming the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

“Along with our studies we had a most delightful social life. Baylor University, a school for boys, was about a half-mile or less from Baylor College, and you know that twenty or thirty boys and that many girls could not fail to find some means of communication. We were allowed to receive the boys in the large parlors of the dormitory once a month on Friday night. We were sometimes allowed to visit our girl friends in the town, and of course this meant there would be a boy invited for each girl, to come in for a good time together in the evening. We all attended the same church and many were the notes and shy glances passed between the boys and girls, although they were required to sit on opposite sides of the church with a high partition between them.

Henry McArdle drawing of the male campus of Baylor University, 1870s
The ride up to the men's campus. Hicks recalls the separate men's and women's campuses, an arrangement that President Rufus Burleson insisted upon before he left for Waco University. Left to right are: Tryon Hall, Houston Hall, Graves Hall, Burleson Domicile, dormitory annex, and Creath Hall.

An annual picnic on San Jacinto Day was a social event anticipated and prepared for months before the time. Each girl had made a date weeks before with some boy, generally her sweetheart, for the whole day together. If the boy was financially able, he hired a horse and buggy to take his lady love, and these were the envy of the other girls, who had to join in with others in hiring a hack or wagon and go in crowds.Another occasion that still lingers in my memory was the Christmas holidays. The last week before Christmas was a time of merry-making. Mr. Clark always prepared for a very elaborate Christmas concert. The large auditorium was gaily festooned with cedar and holly of which there was an abundance in the nearby woods.

Independence, Texas, undated
The men's campus sat on Windmill Hill, giving students a good view of the town. When the railroad bypassed Independence, the town's size began to decrease.

The boys and girls, under the supervision of one of the teachers, were delegated to borrow wagons from some of their country friends and go out in the woods to get these, and such jolly rides as they were, and what a thrill we did get out of them! No auto joy rides of the present ever gave young folks more pleasure. Then the festoons were to be made and the boys were permitted to come over and help in trimming these, and what a good chance for the innocent love making which all boys and girls so much enjoy and which, conducted in the right way and under the right environment, is natural and beneficial for all young people. These concerts were given Thursday before the Christmas holidays. Succeeding them on the following night the boys of Baylor University gave an annual Christmas party at the University building, and this was the climax of all the Christmas frolic. At these parties ‘soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again, and all went merry as marriage bells.’

We did not have, nor did we care for, elaborate refreshments. At these parties given at the schools we only had fruits, nuts and candies which the boys paid for themselves. There was no drinking at these parties of the olden times. The natural exuberance of healthy youth was the only stimulant we needed.”

Updated July 13, 2012: Baylor Photography was kind enough to provide a current photo of the Baylor Female Building and Line Camp.

Baylor Line Camp 2009
The class of 2013 approaches the columns of the Baylor Female Building, jerseys over their shoulders, and prepares to be initiated into the Baylor Line. Credit: Baylor Marketing and Communications/ Matthew Minard.