Seton Hill University Students and Faculty Anxiously Await the Return of Christmas on the Hill

Lowe Dining Hall decorated for Christmas on the Hill; Photo provided by Emma Zuder.

By: Emma Zuder

(GREENSBURG, Pa.)– “Christmas on the Hill is my favorite tradition. It provides us with an opportunity to ‘let our hair down’- or to ‘pin it up’ depending on what’s in season – and to come together in a meaningful way,” said Daniel Casebeer, an education professor at SHU. “While relationships are often forged in the classroom, they are tempered outside of it, and Christmas on the Hill allows us to gather, not as faculty, staff, and students, but as Setonians, co-founders of this great university.” 

Evan Ditty, Director of Student Leadership & Involvement, confirmed there were a couple changes this year. “Some of the biggest changes include the absence of guests at dinner in order to keep the health and safety of the Seton Hill community in the forefront, as well as the After Party moving to McKenna Center Gymnasium from Cecilian Hall. Other changes will be seen at the event, and we’ll leave some things to be a surprise during the week leading up to the event.” 

This will be Ditty’s first Christmas on the Hill since joining the SHU community, “so I’m excited for the event overall and to see the hard work of so many faculty, staff, and students be realized and see the Seton Hill community come together.” 

Junior Faith McDowell, a junior who attended the last Christmas on the Hill two years ago, said the event “is a nice way to wind down before finals,” and “It creates a sense of community during one of the most stressful times of the year.” 

The University’s website described Christmas on the Hill as a “formal celebration that includes a candlelight dinner for students, followed by Christmas liturgy and the Christmas dance, is held just prior to Christmas break.” 

“Everybody’s talking about it,” said sophomore Tawni Wilkinson. “I haven’t talked to someone yet who’s not going,” 

Ditty’s not the only one who will be attending the event for the first time; the class of 2024 and 2025 will make their debut at the annual tradition. 

Darren Achtzehn, Head of Dining Services, said “protecting our family on the hill is key.” Achtzehn is still looking forward to “the return of all your [SHU students] smiles to the space to celebrate this tradition.” 

Casebeer thanked President Mary Finger, Student Life, and Health services for making this event possible, and “as always, I can’t wait to see what kind of magic Darren and his tireless team has in store for attendees.” 

“I love Christmas on the Hill because it’s fun to see my students and interact with them outside of just class,” said Emily Wierszewski, an English professor at SHU. “ I have volunteered for many years serving and I’ve even brought along my oldest kiddo a few times – it’s become really special for my family, too. I’m not able to serve this year but I am glad that they’re bringing the tradition back and that last year’s incoming class will now get to experience it,” Wierszewski said.

“I didn’t know you could bring up family or friends, but I’m looking forward to the event because it will be my first time,” said sophomore Shane Simpson. “My girlfriend’s a student on campus, so I’m going to bring her and hopefully make some memories.” 

“I think it’s such an amazing experience for the students and I always love seeing the joy on my first-year students’ faces during the whole thing as they experience it for the first time, especially when Santa arrives and makes snow,” Wierszewski said. 

Sophomore Sarah Hines is “curious” about the tradition. “I was a little bummed last year when I found out Christmas on the Hill wasn’t happening, but I don’t really know what I am missing. There’s a lot of expectations to be met: the decorations, the lights, and especially the food.” 

Cailyn Kesier, also a sophomore, agreed with Hines about the expectations. “I’m especially interested to see the church service. I’ve attended several different services for Christmas throughout my life and I’m anxious to see how SHU compares,” Keiser said. 

The dining staff at SHU brought up Christmas decorations at the beginning of last week, which had students excited. 

“Christmas decorating has come out of the box full steam. Menu planning is complete, sample plates will be reviewed and chosen in the next week or so, dessert creations and presentations are completed as well. Staff volunteers are coming together also; It should prove to be a great celebration,” said Achtzehn. 

Ditty said the planning of Christmas on the Hill began at the start of the fall semester. “We select dates, begin recruiting faculty and staff to volunteer as servers, work with the Box Office on ticketing, and start working with students to envision what the evening entertainment and After Party will entail.” 

Junior Elizabeth Varner attended the dinner her freshman year. “The food was good; the teachers serve you, which is fun. They had vegetarian options which were considerate and accommodating.” 

Despite not being a “big dancer”, junior Ainsely Plumadore enjoyed the after party. “I look forward to the dance because the track team misses the dinner every year due to a meet. I remember the music was good and there were a couple slow songs. It’s fun with the right people,” 

“Freshman year we got a little bird ornament and it was really cute. I hope they do that again,” said another student attendee. 

According to SHU’s school paper, the Setonian, “The first iteration of Christmas on the Hill happened in the 1890s during the university’s time as an all girl school.”