Walking into the Virginia Dare Room of the Alumni House on Dec. 5 was like walking into a pre-lit Christmas tree forest.
Thirty-five trees some with colored lights, some with clear, but all with otherwise bare branches awaited the moment when the contest would begin.
Susan Hensley, a member of the UNCG Alumni Geeks team, holds up a child so she can place a hand-painted cookie ornament on their tree. The group, which also included Dana Gaspar and Teresa Shorter, took home the award for best homemade ornaments.
Branches of Love, an annual Alumni Student Ambassadors event, taps into the spirit of the season as well as the spirit of competition. Teams of volunteers were given an hour to decorate a tree, which would then be judged. All trees were delivered to needy families to brighten their season.
At the shout of go teams rushed to the center table to grab unbreakable ornaments supplied by the Alumni Association. Then the contest was on. Each team had their own flair.
One group, calling themselves the UNCG Alumni Geeks, hung hand-crafted cookies. It's just flour, salt and water, said Susan Hensley as they put the last touches on the tree. You roll them out and bake for an hour. On another night they'd had a painting party and Santas, reindeer and angels took shape under their hands.
In another corner, Akea McByde-Mota with Delta Sigma Pi stepped back to admire their classic tree, ornamented with red and gold balls and finished with a gold ribbon bow.
Doesn't that look classy? We could be interior decorators. That's perfect for any family.
All the while, holiday music, deejayed by WUAG, filled the room. Baby It's Cold Outside could be heard above the chatter as groups made decisions. I think we need something here, something spinning, said Terry Campbell with the History Trimmers, all students in the history PhD program. Their tree, topped with a large gingerbread man, had a candy theme. Every year we do something different, she said.
Toward the end of the hour, the trees were close to final form. Each unique. Some were wrapped with strings of popcorn and flecked with silver icicles. Others were filled with candy strands or swathed in Spartan blue and gold.
Chancellor Linda P. Brady arrived and began to make a tour of the festive forest, along with Alumni Association President Jana Welch Wagenseller and Student Government Association President Jesse Russo. They proclaimed the winners.
UNCG Alumni Geeks won best in the category of best homemade decorations. Santa's Candy Girls had best use of theme with a Candyland tree. The Spartan Guides produced the tree with the best Spartan spirit, and the History Trimmers took home the distinction of best overall.
But no matter if the tree won an award or not, it was loved by those who received it. Bridgette Dix, assistant director of Alumni Relations and organizer of the event, delivered the trees the following Monday. At one home, a 3-year-old girl squealed, Is that tree for me?
As they left, leaving behind a few gifts as well, the little girl hugged her and said, You really are Santa Claus.
I almost cried right there, Dix said. That made it all worth it.