Texas Tech University

Christmas Cheer on Campus

December 6, 2023

University Student Housing highlights creative ways students can festively, and safely, deck the residence halls this holiday season.

Gathered in a pile on the floor of a student residence hall room at Texas Tech University are several packages of all sizes, wrapped in ribbons and topped with bows. 

They're the perfect Christmas presents for family and friends, tucked underneath a less-than-perfect Christmas tree: a tumbleweed. 

Black and white photo of a tumbleweed in a dorm room, decorated for Christmas.
The University Daily (1973)

Decorated with Christmas cards and candy canes, this was how two roommates chose to spark their Christmas spirit in the fall semester of 1973, as captured by a photographer for The University Daily. 

While pictures like this are a festive reminder of holidays past, to D'aun Green, the managing director of University Student Housing, they're also a reminder of how far safety policies and procedures have come. She has implemented many of those changes during her 32 years working with the residence halls on campus.

“When I saw that photo I went, ‘Oh, gosh, no,'” she said. “I can really appreciate the creative side of it, but fire safety and the safety of the residents is my primary responsibility.”

Tumbleweeds, along with Christmas trees and other tree branches, are considered vegetation of a combustible nature and classified under “Flammable Materials, Unsafe and Prohibited Items” in University Student Housing's residence hall policies and procedures

Green is all too familiar with videos that show how quickly and uncontrollably a Christmas tree can be engulfed in flames. In December 2015, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shared a video on YouTube from an experiment conducted with a dried-out Christmas tree to show how a flashover can occur in less than one minute. 

“Because residence halls typically have a lot of people in them, you're looking at the lives of 500 people if you're not careful with what you're doing in your room,” Green said. “There have been residence hall fires throughout the country, and it's really astounding how quickly a residence hall room can be engulfed in fire.”

Small Christmas tree sitting on dorm room end table, with prohibited extension cord.
Extension cords, as pictured, are prohibited in residence halls.

To prioritize residence hall safety, University Student Housing has prohibited fire hazards that are prevalent during the holidays, such as: 

  • Candles and Incense – Neither are allowed, lit or unlit, in student rooms or public areas in any residence halls. Candle warmers utilizing heated plates are also not permitted.
  • Open Flames – Items that use open flames or could easily cause a fire, such as open coiled appliances, are prohibited.
  • String Lights – No matter if they're white or multicolored, these cannot be hung up in the hallways or on student doors. String light wall/ceiling damage is one of the most common forms of assessed damages at the end of the year.
  • Extension Cords and Power Strips – Avoid these and use surge protectors with only the appropriate number of items plugged in. All electrical appliances should feature the UL certified symbol and be in safe operating condition, not covered by combustible items.
  • Covered Surfaces – Doors, walls and ceilings may not be covered more than 50%. Students may cover bulletin boards and have drapes, curtains or shades on the windows, but the blinds provided must remain in place. Students also may not drape or hang fabric on the walls or ceilings.
  • Spray Paint, Flammable Liquid or Compressed Gases - It is prohibited to use or store any of these items. 

Not to dampen anyone's spirits, but a lot could be dampened if these items are used and, consequently, trigger the smoke detectors. 

“If you bring something flammable in and it catches on fire, it will cause the fire alarm to go off and the sprinkler head would activate and release 100 gallons of water into your room per minute,” Green said. “And then gravity kicks in, so if there are lots of floors underneath you, you have just flooded everybody's room all the way down. The other challenge is you get to pay for that.”

For this similar reason, no décor can be hung from sprinkler heads since this could cause accidental activation. Residents also are prohibited from draping things from the ceiling in general because it could prevent the sprinklers from working properly. 

Oddly enough, spray snow also can set off smoke detectors and cause damage to furniture/glass. Use of this textured substance is highly discouraged. 

Green and her department are far from Grinches and Scrooges, though. They just want students to express their holiday joy while being mindful of others' safety and the consequences of their actions. 

Deck the Residence Halls

There are several ways residents can stay off Santa's naughty list while their room looks and feels ornate enough to be featured on a magazine cover, such as:  

  • String Lights Inside the Room – While string lights are prohibited in hallways or on doors, residents can hang them around windows and in other locations in their room as long as they're mindful to avoid areas that could damage the electrical string (such as cabinets or doors).  
  • Artificial Christmas Trees – Fake firs are acceptable if they are not blocking or inhibiting the exit.  
  • Wrapping Paper – This staple of gift wrapping can only cover doors halfway and cannot prevent it from opening or closing.
  • Command Strips – These sticky strips are the best choice if residents want to hang items in their room. They may still cause damage, but they will typically be minimal and less costly.
  • 3D Items on Doors – Items such as wreaths can be hung on doors as long as they do not stick out too far.  
  • Candle Warmers that use Light Bulbs – These are permitted if residents are sensitive to those around them who may be allergic or intolerant to scents.

In Christmases past, Green has seen many creative ways students have followed these tips. Her favorite is the elaborate lighting she has seen in windows, some with cascading ribbons and oversized ornaments hung from extension rods. 

The best wrapped door she has ever seen featured a Scrooge she described as phenomenal. Inside the rooms, she said Christmas light projectors are a big hit, along with clear backdrops printed with characters such as the Grinch.

She also enjoys when students share glimpses into their personalities by showcasing themes like a punk rock or country Christmas.

“Every student is an individual and they have the opportunity to show their creativity even though we have restrictions,” Green said. “That's when we get to see their personalities shine because everybody does something different in the way they like.”  

While some residents choose to invest a lot of time and energy into their decorations, Green has found going over the top is not always necessary.  

“There are some rooms where residents did the simplest things,” she said, “but it shows that they celebrate, and it shows that they wanted to share that with others.”

Talkington dorm room with subtle holiday decor.

Green may not get to decorate 18-foot-tall real Christmas trees like she once did as a residence hall director in the 1980s. Nor will she ever see the comical tumbleweed Christmas tree make a return. 

But as she walks through the residence halls each December, she feels sentimental and nostalgic as she takes in a variety of holly-jolly displays. 

“It just puts you in a cheerful mood because it's like going home to your neighborhood and seeing all the lights and other celebratory decorations out,” she said. “What I especially like about that is it shows that student perceives their residence hall room as their home.” 

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