Dancer, Prancer, ‘Stranger Things’ at Christmastime
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon Education employees turned Christmas upside down by making “Stranger Things” one of the many joyous things about the much anticipated Christmas decorating contest of the Curriculum Design and Development and Academic Web Services departments.
The display, on the fourth floor of Building 71 at the 27th Avenue complex, features fictional “Stranger Things” town Hawkins, Ind., at Christmastime and includes the popular sci-fi series’ Alphabet Wall. It’s how Joyce Byers, played by actress Winona Ryder, communicates with her missing son, Will, who is trapped in parallel universe “The Upside Down.”
Also making the display merry and bright: a spider-like creature from the series, called a Mind Flayer, which arches over the entryway to a row of cubicles; a pot of Demogorgon poinsettias (they’re the “Stranger Things” creatures with petal-like heads); a box of Eggo waffles, which are telekinetic character Eleven’s favorite treat; and an Upside Down-inspired sign that replicates the show’s logo and declares “Merry Christmas.”
Just call it a 12 days of Christmas that’s very much in tune with Eleven and the rest of the Hawkins gang.
The “A ‘Stranger Things’ Christmas” was just one of about eight entries in the annual holiday decorating contest, in which teams decorate the entryway to their row of cubicles. The contest has become a Building 71 tradition and is so popular that it spawned a Halloween decorating contest earlier this year.
“We liked kind of the ’80s theme so tried to decorate along those lines,” said Tara Webster, a curriculum design developer for the Colangelo College of Business and the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions. “It was a lot of fun to do something that was so creative.”
She said it took the “A ‘Stranger Things’ Christmas” team just a few days to put the design together, with “people just participating as they could.”
Curriculum developer Jason Brown’s team tapped into nostalgia, too, for its entry, “The Christmas Jukebox,” designed to look like an old-school diner.
The centerpiece? A replica of a 1940s- or 1950s-era Wurlitzer jukebox, which was Brown’s contribution to the display.
The jukebox can be opened and closed, via velcro, like a door, to reveal the row of cubicles behind it. The top of the arch includes a quartet of old-school vinyl records with the jukebox’s song selection just below it: “White Christmas,” “O Holy Night,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” …
The kicker? The tube border to the jukebox lights up.
“It’s wood, LED light strips and disposable cutting boards from the Dollar Store,” said Brown.
“Our team had been thinking about it (the theme) for a while,” he said. “We liked the idea of nostalgic Christmas songs, so we went with a diner vibe.”
Other elements to the display include traditional Christmas characters in the diner, such as Frosty, the Grinch and even Snoopy happily playing guitar next to a fireplace outlined with Christmas stockings.
The team didn’t win the contest in 2018 and “got flashier this year to secure the win,” said Brown.
Academic Web Services graphic designer Jo Rolfe was busy adding some billowy cotton to the bottom of her team’s display on Wednesday afternoon, a final touch before judges were to arrive on Thursday.
The team’s contribution is a display titled “Treflections.” It includes a forest of red Christmas trees.
“I found all this red-ribbed paper when I was walking my dog,” Rolfe said, and decided to put the foil paper to good use and turn it into Christmas trees. Along with some decorations from home, voila, “Treflections” was born.
Other themes in the contest: “Christmas in the Desert,” “Season of Giving,” “Island of Misfit Toys” and a reindeer display, to name a few.
Curriculum Design and Development and Academic Web Services weren’t the only departments making jolly.
In the Human Resources office, also on the fourth floor of Building 71, employees turned from last year’s green Grinch theme to a festively red and elegant Christmas frames theme. The idea came from decorating masterminds Shelley Johnson, HR Associate Director, and Miriam Acero, HR Service Center representative, though the display was definitely a team effort.
One wall of the office is decked out in more than a dozen red frames filled with three-dimensional items, from bells to a Frosty the Snowman hat and Christmas tree ornaments. Hung on another wall is yet another frame packed with red poinsettias by Eden Adams, HR Service Center representative. And on a third wall, a white frame encircles a Christmas tree made out of red and gold ornaments.
“Our main thing was the frames. It was a process,” said Alex Waterman, Human Resources assistant. “Shelley got the frames. I took them home and spray-painted them and brought them back and filled them with the ornaments we had. The frame with the tree was inspired by Martha Stewart.”
Sean Coffey, a degree progression specialist in the Office of Academic Records, is no stranger to bringing on the festive at Christmastime, particularly in the office. In 2015, he turned some heads in an office ugly Christmas sweater contest by not donning an ugly sweater but by decorating his beard. He dyed it green and added “beard baubles” and glitter, too.
This time around, he went vertical in his Christmas decor, hanging a star of Bethlehem from the ceiling, then draping green garland from the star and attaching the ends to a desk below in Bethlehem-star-tent fashion, much to the delight of Office of Academic Records Manager Justin Ienuso. It’s over Ienuso’s desk that the star hangs, with the green garlands forming a tent around him.
“I did ask permission,” Coffey said with a smile.
It just so happened that the only place to attach the star from the ceiling happened to be over Ienuso’s desk.
Coffey said he usually doesn’t unleash his elvian Christmas engineering prowess quite to this degree at the office, “but we needed a little more spirit,” he said.
And that spirit can be seen all around campus:
● At Grand Canyon University Hotel, where a reindeer (or maybe it’s an antelope?) graces the center of the circle driveway surrounded by candy canes and snow beast Bumble from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
● The golf carts decorated with antlers and red noses parked outside the hotel
● The 20-foot Christmas tree near GCU Arena.
“It’s just a fun way to sort of bond with your team and build that camaraderie — and to have that creative outlet,” Brown said. “And it just makes the office more fun.”
See the photo gallery of Christmas decorations from around campus below by photographer Elizabeth Tinajero.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.