Christmas Fest: A Worshipful Performance

The Reformation was a time in which church practices were questioned, and theological turmoil developed radical new ways of thinking about the Christian religion and its relationship with worshippers. This conflict sparked theologians like Calvin, Zwingli, and Luther to create a wide breadth of theological writings. As a school affiliated with the Lutheran tradition we can use these writings to gauge our success in using the theological tools that the reformers created to shape out effects on the world both within campus and off campus. It should be noted that Luther would likely argue that no theology, even his own, should take precedence over the words of the Gospel. It is then with great care that we apply the sentiments of the reformation to faith and worship in our own time to the Christmas Festival at St. Olaf.


It is difficult to know with 100% certainty, but most performers and hopefully all conductors would agree that Christmas Fest is either spiritually or emotionally moving, and the intentions of directors and organizers is to share that experience with the audience. Luther’s main argument for music is that it enhances the text and theological ideas that it is intending to convey, and Fest certainly does this by focusing the message of its repertoire on the birth of Christ. It also enforces the ability for all to understand the text being sung through printed books that contain text and translations. Creating a meaningful spiritual experience for all involved though a mass display of St. Olaf’s talent and coordination is Christmas Fest’s purpose and it succeeds in upholding Luther’s views on music.


Problems only arise when discussing whether one should call Christmas Fest worship or performance. The most obvious allusion to the reformation would be the comparison of the admission price of Fest to the selling of indulgences. Certainly, St. Olaf is not peddling that one must attend Fest in order to be saved by Christ, but it does create a boundary between people and the words of the Gospel which is contrary to Luther’s hope that all can be given access. Calvin and Zwingli would certainly dislike the practice of Christmas Fest and its use of instruments and lack of congregational song which distort their views of song as a motivator for zealous prayer. It is subjective whether the musical selections for Christmas Fest are chosen more for their musical value and “delight of the ear” or for their theological value, but it should be considered when deciding whether Fest is either worship or performance.

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