Christmas trees are magical, and none more so than when they represent the history and relevance of an institution that is an integral part of the fabric of Annapolis and revered by the entire nation: The United States Naval Academy (USNA).
Annapolis Christmas Tree
The USNA Holiday decorating ceremony took on new meaning this year, as the Academy celebrates an impressive 175 years in existence.
The Downtown Annapolis Partnership (DAP) wanted to recognize what the Naval Academy and Midshipmen mean to the community. Erik Evans and Judy Buddensick of DAP approached USNA Alumni Association members Kristen Pironis and Nadine Smith to ask if they would be interested in taking over the decorating of the tree, located at Market Space, to honor the 175th anniversary.
USNA Christmas Tree Ornaments
As often happens when passion meets purpose, creativity is sparked and the theme for the decoration came to life. What better way to honor the historic milestone and reflect the history of the Academy than to create ornaments representing 100 Shipmate Magazine covers from over the years? The magazine is the official Alumni magazine of the USNA, has been published now for 80 years, and is distributed worldwide.
To execute this idea they went big with a 22-foot tree, one of the largest ever on Market Space. Nautical rope with various styles of knots took the place of traditional garland, and the tree was strung with over 1,500 multi-colored lights. Heather Skipper of the Downtown Annapolis Partnership provided about 20 Midshipmen covers (Midshipmen hats are called “covers”) that had been left behind at various games and occasions. Uniquely, these covers as ornaments add another aspect of the Naval Academy’s historical and ever-present value of connection to the community.
USNA Superintendent Vice Admiral Sean Buck stopped by to see the tree. He made his way to Market Space after serving the Brigade their Thanksgiving meal. He was moved by the meaningful décor and the impact of the tree on passersby.
Judy Buddensick encountered a tearful woman observing the tree, and she approached her to ask if she was okay. “She told me she was missing her son. He’s a graduate from last year, and she couldn’t see him because he’s in flight school. So she started taking pictures of the tree and texting them to him. She’s just one example of people taking pictures and sending to their USNA graduate or family members.”
She continued, “It’s the birthday of the big overall academy but it’s all made up of people, whether you come from far away, go to school here, or you sponsor Midshipmen. I sponsor three international plebes, one from Poland and two from Montenegro. Their list of to-do’s included a visit D.C. and to take their pictures by this tree. They think of it as ‘their tree’.”
USNA Tree at Ogle Hall
As for tradition, the tree lighting ceremony that occurs outside of Ogle Hall still carried on in spite of COVID. Held virtually as a Facebook Live Event, you can watch it on the Academy’s Facebook page. The celebration kicked off with local town crier Squire Frederick, followed by a countdown to illumination by Superintendent Buck. Additionally, the Navy Brass Quintet provided lively renditions of Christmas carols for viewers to enjoy. Four Navy officers, who were part of the glee club when they were at the academy, sang and led the socially distanced attendants in caroling. The 70 foot deodar cedar, usually lit with multi-colored lights, was decked out in blue and gold in honor of the 175th anniversary.
Everytime I see the tree, I am reminded of the service so many young people that come through Annapolis provide to this country, and I am deeply grateful. Happy Birthday USNA! Thank you for your enduring and honorable presence.