St. Olaf celebrates the season with annual Christmas Festival
Each year, as the last of the fall leaves flutter away and snowflakes begin to grace the air, thousands of visitors from across the United States descend on St. Olaf College to hear the spirit of the season come to life through choral music.
For many of these people, the celebration of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season begins as they wind their way through the college’s majestic limestone buildings during the first weekend of December to attend the annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival.
First held in 1912, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival is one of the oldest musical celebrations of Christmas in the United States. Led by five conductors, it features more than 500 student musicians who are members of the college’s world-renowned choirs and orchestra.
The festival features a rich repertoire of classic Advent and Christmas compositions, familiar carols, hymns from around the world, and contemporary pieces from a diverse range of composers and cultures, offering music that both celebrates the Norwegian American history of the college while also highlighting beautiful works from around the globe. It traditionally closes with the hymn Beautiful Savior.
“The St. Olaf Christmas Festival transcends entertainment and it transforms the human spirit.” — Anton Armstrong ’78
“The St. Olaf Christmas Festival transcends entertainment and it transforms the human spirit,” says Christmas Festival Artistic Director Anton Armstrong, a 1978 graduate of St. Olaf who has conducted the acclaimed St. Olaf Choir for nearly three decades.
The founder of St. Olaf College’s highly regarded Music Department, F. Melius Christiansen, created the St. Olaf Christmas Festival in 1912 as a Christmas program designed for students and those of the more expansive college community to celebrate the end of the semester. Over the years the program has evolved into a multi-day festival, with four performances spanning the first weekend in December. Each year, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival features a different theme, brought to life through a stunning set designed by St. Olaf faculty member Christie Hawkins, that aims to provide a message of faith, hope, and unity through music. This year’s theme is “Good News of Great Joy.”
The festival is regularly broadcast across the United States on public television and radio, and has been featured nationally in publications such as TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times.
Due to the high demand and limited availability of seats for the festival, St. Olaf College has invested a tremendous amount of resources to bring the sounds of the Christmas Festival to people all over the world. In 2016, for the first time, people from all over the world had the opportunity to experience the magic of Christmas Festival in the comfort of their own home by watching a live video stream on their computer, tablet, or mobile device. The 2018 Christmas Festival live stream will be free for all interested viewers.
“The live stream allows us to bring this message to those who have never experienced Christmas Festival, or people who have not experienced it for a very long time,” Armstrong says. “It allows us to share the power of the message of hope, love, kindness, and justice that are articulated through the celebration.”
“The live stream allows us to bring this message to those who have never experienced Christmas Festival, or people who have not experienced it for a very long time.” — Anton Armstrong ’78
Conveying the spirit of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival in real time to an audience around the world is a significant undertaking — one that requires 10 HD cameras throughout the performance space, each individually controlled from high-tech video studios on campus; an Emmy Award–winning director/producer team; and 17 skilled broadcast technicians, including 11 current St. Olaf students and three alumni who are dedicated to sharing St. Olaf’s special tradition with national and international audiences.
“Our goal is to make viewers feel like they have the best seat in the house,” says St. Olaf Director of Broadcast Media Services Jeffrey O’Donnell, a 2002 graduate of the college who oversees the production of the live stream.
To learn more about the 2018 St. Olaf Christmas Festival and how you can experience the performance from your corner or the world, visit stolafchristmas.com.