When you go to St. Olaf, the holidays are an exciting time for entirely different reasons from the rest of the world. It’s not just the trees and presents that make December “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – rather, it’s St. Olaf’s annual Christmas Festival. This tradition is a century old. While everyone jokes about the disgusting “traditional lutefisk” Stav Hall serves and the influx of Norwegian Sweaters, it’s hard to not appreciate the spirit that comes along with the four days of concerts in early December.
This year’s theme was entitled “Ris’n With Healing In His Wings,” and it featured more upbeat songs and variety than did last. As a firm believer that Christmas Fest is no more than a marketing and fundraising scheme for St. Olaf, I often forget that there is something wonderful behind true artistic performances, and the choirs certainly did not disappoint. The ensembles featured were the St. Olaf Choir, the St. Olaf Orchestra, Cantorei, the Chapel Choir, the Manitou Singers and the Viking Chorus, each performing as individual groups and as a massed ensemble.
I have to admit, what I remember of last year Christmas Fest did not impress me. I guess I was expecting something different because of all the hype leading up to the festival. I continually went between fidgeting in my seat to glancing at my program, wondering when the over two hour concert would come to a close. I was indecisive about returning for the performance this year, but decided I should go, for the experience if nothing else.
When the orchestra began immediately with “Adagio ‘Nimrod’” by Edward Elgar, I concluded that this year may be a bit of a different experience for me. The soft, captivating music left an almost inspirational and awe-struck feeling within me. The choirs then proceeded to sing as a full ensemble “Keep Your Lamps,” which carried an almost sinister tone. Through various narrations, traditional Christmas songs such as “Joy to the World,” and many new arrangements to St. Olaf, I left the concert feeling very inspired by the talent that my fellow students carry.
My personal favorite piece this year had to be “Noel” by the St. Olaf Chapel Choir. Its upbeat nature and clap-along moves certainly engaged the audience through the entire arrangement. It, however, left me wishing for upbeat songs in the rest of the program. I know Christmas is a reflective time traditionally, but the slow, melancholy songs that seem to come every year just don’t spread the same cheer. I will applaud the increase in assortment from last year’s program, though.
So, where was this variety filled program last year? I may never know, but one thing’s for sure: this year’s concert saved the tradition of Christmas Fest for me, and I will most definitely be going back in the future with my hopes restored. He did indeed rise “With Healing In His Wings.”