Christmas Fest: Conflict or Confluent?

A beloved tradition of a college of the Lutheran church, the annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival echoes the Reformation musical theology and embodies Martin Luther’s perception of music and religion in many ways. First and foremost, Luther constructed his cosmology of music upon this core statement that music is next to the Word of God. According to Luther, music is a divine gift uniquely assigned to humans as a medium to praise and thank God for His forgiveness and love. As a result, music has long been an essential part of Lutheran worship tradition. Correspondingly, serving the traditional Christian holiday, Christmas Fest centralizes on religious repertoire while incorporates essential worship rituals such as gospel readings in between music performances. We can argue that Christmas Fest is necessarily Lutheran because in this event, music is valued as effective and significant as text readings in terms of fulfilling the demand of Christian holiday celebration.

Beyond the fundamental appreciation to music itself, distinctive from many other Christian beliefs, Lutherans tolerate and value diverse mediums of making music, embracing both vocal and instrumental music, as well as virtuosity in musical performances. Christmas Fest inherits the Lutheran acknowledgement to the variety approaches of music making by including both choral repertoire and instrumental piece into the event, although vocal music always dominates the program. In addition, Christmas Fest features fairly virtuosic performing groups, such as the St. Olaf Choir and  the St. Olaf Orchestra, and the choices of repertoire are particularly demanding as well.

Despite of these connections with Luther’s statements about on music and its effectiveness in worship, Christmas Fest does face several fundamental problems in regard to the Reformation musical theology. One essential premise for the Reformation Theology to function is the existence of faith in Christ. However, Christmas Fest inevitably involves individuals who are of other or without religious belief in both the participants and the audience, due to the college setting of this event. This problem of lack of religious devotion is augmented when the college advertises the event as a school concert and sales tickets for it, which conflicts with Lutheran’s idea that making music is justified primly and essentially because of the religious motivation.

Therefore, through this brief discussion about the consistency and discordance between the Reformation musical theology and Christmas Fest, it is fairly clear that Christmas Fest does not carry one single function but is rather a multi-functional event that serves different groups of people for both sacred and secular meanings. Instead of arguing that the sacred and secular aspects of the event conflict with each other, I would rather say Christmas Fest is a confluence of diverse needs existed in a college campus, since eventually the event functions as a great opportunity to gather the community together with joyful spirits no matter what is the rationale behind.

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