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Power Ranking Penn State’s Holiday Greeting Videos

Penn State released its annual holiday greeting this week with a tutorial on how to properly cheer “We Are.” Like the videos the university releases each December, this one featured members of the university community (read: the Nittany Lion and the Barrons) summarizing what it means to be a Penn Stater, reflecting on the previous year, and looking toward the next one with optimism.

The holiday greetings are usually pretty heartwarming, but they also make for some very memeable screengrabs. With the holiday season and its tidings of comfort and joy upon us, we took it upon ourselves to power rank the greetings over the last decade or so — from the early years of Graham Spanier sitting by a fireplace to the more elaborate skits featuring Emmy-winning actor Eric Barron.

Tier 4: The Humble Beginnings

10. 2008: New Year’s Resolutions No. 1

When the university began posting holiday greetings to YouTube in 2008, there were no skits or Uber-driving university presidents. Instead, the original end of year featured then-President Graham Spanier sitting by a fire in a stately armchair, Penn Staters talking about their goals for the new year, and the Nittany Lion struggling to come up with a suitable answer to that question.

Not much else happened in that incipient production, but the highlights include a professor holding a baby and cameos by Greg Drane with dreadlocks talking about growing his hair out and Mike the Mailman saying he wants to eat more cookies in the new year. We have a pretty good feeling he followed through on that resolution.

9. 2009: New Year’s Resolutions No. 2

A year later, the university released a video that was more or less the same setup with Spanier returning to the fireplace for his annual late-night Christmas special, Penn Staters of all ages sharing their resolutions, and Mike the Mailman talking about cookies. What pushes 2009 ahead of 2008 is in another appearance by Drane, he’s saying he wants more cowbell in 2010. Like Mike the Mailman’s cookie goal the year before, there’s no doubt in our minds he rose to the occasion in the new decade.

Tier 3: Getting The Hang Of It…

8. 2010: The First Skit

The 2010 holiday greeting once again featured fireside Spanier and New Year’s resolutions, but it also paved the way for videos of the future, as it included the first real skit. In the video, a Weather Channel broadcast cuts to a forecast for 2011 as a way to tie in the man-on-the-street interviews, which had become a staple to these videos by this time.

Some highlights included a noticeably-naked Nittany Lion wandering into Appalachian Outdoors looking for the perfect scarf. Surprise: he ends up taking home a blue-and-white striped scarf. Also, Mike the Mailman shockingly isn’t talking about cookies in this video. The Lion instead brings him an entire cookie cake, because it’s the little things during the holiday season that mean the most.

7. 2013: The Nittany Lion Makes A Card

No holiday greetings were posted to YouTube in 2011 and 2012, most likely because the university’s Office of Strategic Communications was a little busy then. But when the videos returned in 2013, Penn State quickly got back to their sentimental, feel-good vibes. This time, though, instead of focusing on resolutions, the video recapped the year in an interesting way as the Nittany Lion attempts to make a holiday card (most likely to send to all his mascot friends as a way to brag about his school).

After struggling to pick just one or two pictures for his card, the Symbol of Our Best opts to make a giant card with a collage of pictures of things like THON and the White Out.

The skit was cute and the most advanced of its time, but what drags this video down to the bottom half of the holiday greeting pile is its emphasis on the dreadful “Penn State Lives Here” campaign. The marketing slogan made at least three appearances in the pictures the Lion shuffled through and ended up being the cover of the giant card itself.

Released in the heart of the university’s infamous Brand Roadshow, Apology Tour, Explanation Tour, the video seems like an attempt to make the slogan stick, but it ended up bringing down a perfectly good holiday greeting. Bah humbug.

Tier 2: The Barron Era

6. 2015: StandardHolidayGreeting.mp4

It’s no coincidence that the holiday greeting videos turned themselves around when Eric Barron became university president. In our totally objective rankings, Barron has yet to have a video finish outside the top five. He and his wife Molly certainly have a future appearing in Hallmark Christmas movies once their time at Penn State is over — as opposed to Graham Spanier and his fireplace, which seem more fit for the next James Bond movie.

The 2015 video wasn’t anything special, but it was simple, sweet, and effective. The Barrons merely recapped the previous year — including everything “from the moments that bring us together to the accomplishments that change the world to the everyday things that sometimes go unnoticed”…not to mention James Franklin handing out pizza.

5. 2019: We Are 101

I liked this year’s end-of-year video. However, it didn’t feel very seasonal. It seemed like it could’ve been released at any time during the year and had the same effect. Sure, the premise is a bit corny…and there’s a strange focus on a campus tour…and the students’ robotic responses while giving tours and eating ice cream don’t do a whole lot to dispel that whole cult stereotype, but I enjoyed the discussion of what really goes into a proper “We Are.”

A large part of our identity as a university (which our famous cheer represents) is the community that withstands the tests of time and division, and this video provides a good glimpse at that. My only issue is that upon the video’s release, it wasn’t clear if this was the holiday greeting or just another sizzle reel. That lack of identity is the bad loss that ruins 2019’s case for the top four and relegates it to a lesser New Year’s Six.

But the video was edited well and certainly more creative than “asking” students what their plans are for the new year, so it deserves much more than New Year’s in Central Florida.

4. 2014: Nittany Lion’s Christmas Vacation

Although the 2014 holiday greeting was the first to feature the Barrons, Molly and Eric were hardly the stars of the show. In this one, the Nittany Lion decorates not just the University Park campus, but also the Commonwealth campuses, the Hershey Medical Center, and Pittsburgh before embarking on a world tour with his box of Christmas lights.

The video ends with the Lion having his Clark Griswold moment when he lights up his creation with one emphatic flip of the switch. Fortunately for the Lion (and maybe even more so for the Santa’s sleigh in his front yard), no fuses were blown as a result of his ambitious decorating.

This video gets extra style points for telling a story without any speaking until the final 40 seconds. Even John Krasinski would be proud of the cinematography.

Tier 1: The All-Time Greats

3. 2018: Home Alone

If you ever wanted a holiday greeting that would warm your heart and bring a tear to your eye like only Frank Capra could, 2018 did that in spades. After students leave Penn State for winter break, the Nittany Lion celebrates his free reign over campus by eating gallons of Creamery ice cream, running through the halls of Old Main, and making snow angels in Pegula Ice Arena.

However, like Kevin McAllister, he soon realizes that being all alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, because as he’s soon reminded by Eric Barron, “It’s the people of Penn State that make this place special.”

Even better, the Nittany Lion looks like an angsty teen here saying, “Dad, it’s not just a phase!”

2. 2017: #ShareThePSUSpirit

Random acts of kindness have been a popular theme in Penn State’s holiday greetings. The 2017 video played into this from wire to wire as a student stops the Nittany Lion to tell him he dropped his scarf. From there, the video shows different people around campus sporting the signature striped scarf volunteering in a soup kitchen, holding the door open for each other, and working with kids.

Not to mention…taking selfies?

We also got to see what the Nittany Lion’s closet looks like. Unsurprisingly, it looks a lot like James Franklin’s wardrobe.

If it weren’t for the hashtag forcing the message represented throughout the video, 2017 could easily make an argument to be the best holiday greeting…but there’s one video that just dominates the eye test.

1. 2016: I’ll Be Home For The Holidays, Thanks To The Uber-Driving University President

The best Penn State holiday greeting came in 2016 when “a guy named Eric” picked up one student on her way home for the Uber ride of a lifetime.

The video begins with Eric Barron rolling up around campus as students headed around Pennsylvania and the world hitch a ride. Along the way, they pull a cowbell out of his glove compartment, shout “We Are!” out the window, and transport an assortment of hitchhikers like the Blue Band, an a cappella group, and eventually the Nittany Lion.

The video also gave us this iconic picture. Comment what song the squad’s bumping to here.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected] All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.


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