Dreaming of a Baker Christmas
An inside look at the making of a public party
Photo by Frederick Wang
The Baker College commons contains only its usual smattering of students doing their homework and hanging out. Suddenly, the doors open and the quiet is shattered. In marches a group of students in red sweaters and Santa hats, carrying in tray after tray of cookies painstakingly prepared for the students. It’s Baker Christmas.
However, the actual public party will be held outside. With Christmas lights strung onto every available surface, and red hats pulled onto every head, the quad is brimming with anticipatory energy, ready to spill out on the dance floor the moment “Feliz Navidad” starts playing on loop.
Rebecca Francis and Emma Reford, the two women behind it all, are naturally decked in red sweaters, flushed cheeks and Christmas cheer. This isn’t their first time organizing an event like this. As co-socials chairs, Francis and Reford organized Baker’s spring public party, Baker ’90s, as well as a college night last April.
“We’re a really, really good team,” Francis, a Baker sophomore, said. “My favorite part about working with Emma is that she’s one of my best friends. We think in a lot of the same ways so it’s easy to plan things out.”
Now they’re carrying on the tradition of Baker Christmas, which, according to Francis, started with a member of the college who loved the holiday so much that he had a Christmas-themed birthday party in September.
The process of organizing the public started as soon as students returned to Rice in August. From ordering the kegs from Pub, to planning the event with Student Activities, to decorating the quad the night of, the socials chairs are responsible for every decision. They also have to enlist Baker students to help them pull off the event. Francis and Reford chair a social committee of 15 people, and are in charge of approximately 50 freshman volunteers for the actual party. The volunteers help to set up the quad, provide caregiving and security, serve in the beer garden and clean up afterwards.
The event planning process with Student Activities is extensive, especially with the recent revamping of the system for them to approve publics. Previously, events including alcohol had to be registered with Student Judicial Programs. However, last year, public party planning was moved to Student Activities, an office in the administration under Dean Hutchinson.
“They [changed the process] to make it a little more risk management based,” Francis said. “It forces us to think through the process a little bit more, and to make sure we’re planning for all the risks that could happen and mitigating them before they do.”
Working with Student Activities, Francis and Reford drew up a formal plan of the entire night, including the number of servers and security, a map of the location and even where students would throw their trash throughout the night.
“There are a lot of meetings and a lot of emails and a lot of documents and plans that are made, but in the end, it really does make it a less stressful night,” Reford, a sophomore, said. “I guess the in-depthness is both the pro and the con.”
Since this is only the second year that the party has been a public, their primary concern in the week leading up to Baker Christmas was to get the word out and get people excited.
“Bakerites will come because we’ve always done Baker Christmas, but the rest of the university, because they weren’t as involved with it in the past, don’t exactly know what to expect and don’t necessarily know whether it’s going to be fun,” Francis said.
This pressure to make sure that students actually attend the event seems to come with the job.
“It’s certainly disheartening to put so much work into something and then not a lot of people come,” Reford said.“We’re really hoping a lot of people come and that everything goes smoothly.”
“We’re hyping it up to people,” Francis added.
The Baker Christmas 2017 Facebook event shows that almost 350 people said they would be going and more than 400 were interested in attending.
Baker freshman and party volunteer Varsha Varghese found another way to reach out to people.
“Since Baker Christmas is a fairly new public, we thought a Snapchat filter would be a small but effective way to publicize the party,” Varghese said.
Another stressful element for Reford was actually implementing their plan, including buying food and setting up the kegs. For Francis, juggling all the little details and making sure nothing fell through the cracks was her least favorite part of the process.
According to Francis, upholding the Christmas tradition has been one of the most important things to keep in mind, along with making sure that the students in their college would enjoy it. She views publics as a fun opportunity to allow students to decompress, and let them “work hard, play hard.’”
“It’s also a good way for students from other colleges to be introduced to colleges that they don’t necessarily go to otherwise,” she said.
Within a couple of hours, the Baker quad transformed dramatically. With setup finished, the picnic table loaded with pizza and cookies, and the freshman security team in their neon yellow uniforms, Baker Christmas began.
As the night progressed, more and more students started steadily pouring into the quad. The lavishly decorated Christmas tree towers over the students, who have arrived dressed in their best holiday outfits.
Reford was satisfied with the level of turnout.
“I thought Baker Christmas went really well, especially for a Baker party, which are not known for their high attendance rates,” she said. “I thought the trap Christmas music and the fun theme gave it a unique vibe, and I was really excited to see people enjoying themselves.”
Brown College junior Claire Luo enjoyed the excuse to celebrate Christmas three months early, and felt that the event was a success.
“More than the party itself, it was really fun being campy and sentimental with Christmas music and baking all day,” Luo said.
Han Ton, a freshman from Baker, also enjoyed the party.
“The lights and decorations, being outside, and the remixed Christmas songs —all of it definitely lifted my spirits during midterms,” Ton said.
More from The Rice Thresher
Jaylen Carr grew up playing Nintendo video games — “If it had the Nintendo seal, I probably played it at some point,” he said — and loving everything about the multinational Japanese electronics and video game company. So when he received an internship offer from the Nintendo human resources department in the spring of his sophomore year, Carr said it felt like his stars had aligned.
On a cool Saturday in March, Lesa Tran held her daughter Ophelia for the very first time. Throughout Ophelia’s life, her March 21 birthday will coincide with the vernal equinox — the beginning of spring — and signal the start of the season of renewal, hope and promise. This year, though, things were different: Spring came on March 20, and Ophelia was delivered amid a global pandemic.
Being on the screen isn’t new to Gabe Baker, a Rice alumnus (Brown College ’14) and cast member of The Bachelor franchise’s new music dating show: “The Bachelor: Listen to Your Heart” on ABC, where contestants sing to and with each other. Baker has been on athletic competition reality shows before –– “American Ninja Warrior” and Netflix’s “Ultimate Beastmaster.” While the constant eye of the cameras did put him under pressure to perform on those shows, Baker said that being on “The Bachelor” brought a new kind of pressure.