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Hanging of the Greens

Hanging of the Greens


14,000 luminarias, hot posole, and Christmas carols unite the University of New Mexico campus every December. Beginning in the 1930s, the Hanging of the Greens is UNM's oldest tradition that is still celebrated annually. The senior student honor society Mortar Board plans the event. Student organizations adorn campus with luminarias during the day, spelling out their Greek letters on the grass or lining the edges of monumental campus buildings. At night, the community of students, faculty, alumni, and Albuquerque residents assemble in front of the UNM Bookstore. Members of Mortar Board dress up as Christmas elves and join Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. The group sings Christmas carols together as they march around campus. The university president and Lobo Louie and Lucy always make an appearance. When they reach University House, the Mortar Board elves leave a wreath at the president's front door. Carolers are greeted with free posole and hot chocolate at Hodgin Hall. In the spirit of giving, anyone can take the luminarias from campus the next morning to decorate their own homes.

In 1934, Hanging of the Greens followed the annual "Christmas Sing" on the first Sunday of December. An honorary music sorority, "Pa-Yat-Yamo", later called Sigma Alpha Iota, led students in Christmas carols in the old stadium building. The next day, students walked around campus singing carols. Lena C. Clauve, the Dean of Women, began the tradition of a candle procession in the 1940s. The procession began visiting the president's house in 1942. Tom Popejoy Jr., son of longstanding President Popejoy, remembers singing with the students and sharing refreshments in University House.

The Mortar Board, a women-only senior honor society at the time, took over of Hanging of the Greens in the 1950s. The carolers began at the furthest building from the SUB, the Kappa Alpha house, and visited every fraternity house and dorm. Students joined the group at any point, and the procession ended at the SUB. After the singing, students gathered in the SUB ballroom in front of the fireplace (now the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology). Mrs. Thompson, the SUB director, served candy and popcorn. Students of Mortar Board decorated the SUB with greenery cut from the Sandia Mountains. Dean Clauve asked the UNM groundskeepers to make a tin wreath that students filled with the greenery. The wreath hung above the Student Union fireplace.

Hanging of the Greens changed from being a candlelight procession to a luminaria walk in the early 1970s. In the late 70s, a lack of leadership lost the tradition until 1980, when Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity, helped Mortar Board revive Hanging of the Greens. Since then, it has been celebrated every year and draws thousands of people to the University of New Mexico to stroll among the historic campus buildings illuminated by thousands of luminarias.

Sophia Fletcher, Mechanical Engineering, 2018

Further reading:

“University of New Mexico Traditions: The First Hundred Years (1889-1989)” , CSWR LD3781 .N519 1989 c.1