By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
If Clark Griswold’s Aunt Bethany were on the fourth floor of Building 71, she would ask, “Is your house on fire?”
Building 71 would answer, “No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights.”
In short, it’s all Clark Griswold up in Building 71, where it’s a full-blown, four-alarm holiday, thanks to Grand Canyon University’s Curriculum Design and Development and Academic Web Services departments, who have aimed to have the hap, hap happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye.
It was right before Thanksgiving when B.J. Reyes, Curriculum Design and Development department manager, thought it might be right as rain – or spirited as snow – to raise the holiday cheer levels with a Christmas decorating contest.
So he and other departmental elves came up with a list of Christmas movies and other holiday themes – “Elf,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and the like. After drawing numbers and choosing themes, employees took to the task: to come up with the best holiday decorations ever and convert their cookie-cutter aisle of cubicles into something winter dazzling.
Eight aisles of employees, about 100 of them between the two departments, spent oodles of time – lunchtime, break time, weekends and other free time – to come up with their decorations, a veritable feast for the eyes (and a vision that’s far from being caused by an undigested bit of beef, as Ebeneezer Scrooge might contend).
“We just wanted to see what they would come up with. We had no idea they’d go all in,” said Reyes, who arranged for judges to come in from different departments Monday to pick a winner, which will be announced Thursday.
Take the Tim Burton Christmas gothic-style of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” aisle, with its gargoyles atop the entryway – gargoyles with curiously familiar faces of GCU employees – along with zombie-style portraits of employees atop black-and-white striped cubicle walls covered with snowflake spiders. Then there’s the ghost silhouette in the background and wonky, crooked Halloween houses.
Contrast that with the Winter Wonderland-themed aisle pretty enough for a winter wedding with white fluted paper trees, silver snowflakes, blue and white-snowflake cubicle wallpaper and rows of white flowers.
If you take a jaunt through the Santa’s Workshop aisle, you’ll see everything from a wrapping station to a whole cubicle turned into an elf uniform closet (complete with door), to a Christmas train cubicle.
Oh, and for a little something extra, grab a pair of snowflake viewing glasses before you enter the aisle. Put them on and you’ll see the Christmas lights turn into snowflakes.
The employees in the Santa’s Workshop aisle happen to be associated with the College of Science, Engineering and Technology and wanted to engineer that bit of technology into their decorations.
Kimberley Foster, CDD lead curriculum developer, said the Santa’s Workshop team didn’t just throw together a design.
“We had a special meeting to decide what we wanted to do,” she said. “People started going home and looking at the internet. We decided everyone should have their own themed, unique room in the workshop.”
Everyone brought in workshop supplies and stuck it in a bin “for the taking” for anyone who needed to add to their cubicle’s décor.
“I think we did pretty good,” she said of the end result. “I’m surprised how well everyone participated.”
Reyes said one of the neat things about the contest is how appreciative everyone is of everyone else’s efforts and how the event has strengthened the team’s connection.
“It’s one part of the GCU culture,” he said, “people having the opportunity to do fun stuff, which improves the morale.”
Melissa Jankowski, editor in the CDD department, was part of the Twelve Days of Christmas team and said it took it took about a week for her and her fellow employees to get their aisle ready. They turned their Twelve Days of Christmas theme into a cinema with 12 days of different holiday films, from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” to “Home Alone” and “Die Hard,” complete with an image of Bruce Willis crawling through an air duct above curriculum developer Dennis Reiber’s desk.
“We made it a team thing,” Jankowski said of the effort.
It quickly became apparent that the team had to raise their game after glancing at the “Peanuts” team and their big plans.
The “A Charlie Brown Christmas” aisle includes not only a specially made wooden entryway; it also has the sad Charlie Brown Christmas tree and a portrait of the employees turned into “Peanuts” character avatars.
But, of course, the big question is this: Is “Die Hard” really a Christmas movie?
“The jury’s still out on that,” Reiber said with a laugh, though he added of the contest, “I enjoyed it. I had a ball. Everyone pitched in. Everyone came up with ideas on how to make things work. It was nice to see the creativity of it.”
As it turns out, Building 71’s decor isn’t limited to the fourth floor. Holiday decorating contests on other floors feature, perhaps not entire aisles decorated in one holiday theme, but individual cubicles all decked out, such as a spaghetti and maple syrup-spiked desk a la “Elf,” a “Frozen”-themed cubicle and “Polar Express”-inspired area, complete with a monitor turned into a brick fireplace.
But Building 71 isn’t the only place at GCU where Christmas is in full swing.
The Clinical Practice Group in the College of Education decided to have fun with an ugly sweater contest recently. Thirteen participated, breaking out everything from reindeer sweaters to gingerbread-festooned hoodies.
And the CSET faculty launched its first Christmas hallway decorating contest, inviting students, faculty and staff to cast their vote for the most festive group of the CSET faculty.
Voters were bribed with cocoa, cookies and other treats as they walked through the faculty office areas on the third and fourth floors, where they might have spied red holiday garland on the walls made to look like the heartbeat on an EKG monitor or a Christmas tree (in GCU purple, of course) made out of surgical gloves as a nod to the college’s science-and health bent.
One hallway on the fourth floor went with a “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” theme, complete with a mannequin dressed as Cousin Eddie in his white robe and deer hat.
Outside of one office was this: “The Grinch says, ‘Start studying for finals now because roses may be red, students may be clever, but college is short and GPA is forever.’”
“We definitely have the spirit,” said Dr. Binaben Vanmali, science program director.
Organizer Melissa Beddow, forensic science professor, said she wanted to do something “just to build camaraderie with everyone and bring everyone together.”
Rosanne Magarelli, CSET program coordinator/prehealth advisor, dressed up a skeleton in a reindeer sweater for the event, timed during finals.
“Community of care is a big part of this,” she said. “We want to make sure they (students) feel they’re valued and that we’re here for them. We wanted to make them feel upbeat. It’s a contest, but it’s for them … and to remind them they’re blessed. We want to make sure they take a pause because this is truly why we’re here. … It’s that sense of service and sense of care.”
You can reach GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at (602) 639-7901 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.