St. Olaf College | News

Christmas Festival brings ‘a message the world wants and needs to hear’

No one knows for sure exactly when the St. Olaf Christmas Festival at St. Olaf College became the gold standard for holiday-season musical performances — specifically, choral celebrations of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

Some people contend it was when other colleges started copying the event, putting on their own Christmas festivals. Others argue that it was in 1983, when PBS first broadcast the festival nationwide. But for Anton Armstrong, the festival’s artistic director, the moment of recognition came via a phone call several years ago.

“I got a call from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” he said. “I mean — the Mormon Tabernacle Choir calling us and asking for advice on how to put on a Christmas festival?”

He shook his head as if he’s still having trouble believing it.

So begins a profile of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival in Faith & Leadership, the online magazine of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity. The story examines how the festival, one of the oldest and most highly regarded musical Christmas celebrations in the country, strives each year to present a message that’s meaningful for a diverse and changing world.

St. Olaf Christmas Festival Artistic Director Anton Armstrong ’78 conducts during this year’s festival.

Armstrong, a 1978 graduate of St. Olaf who has taught in the Music Department and led the St. Olaf Choir for nearly three decades, explains that the festival is constantly changing to meet the needs of the changing world around it.

“We ask: What does this campus need to hear?” he tells journalist Jeff Strickler. “What does the wider community, the world, need and want?”

Read the full profile in Faith & Leadership. Free video and audio downloads of the 2018 St. Olaf Christmas Festival are available now. Visit to learn more and experience the music for yourself.