The most problematic aspect of Christmas Fest for me is the pageantry. I will shy away from using the word authentic, but it becomes a replicated experience when it is done four nights in a row. It is very well put together and cohesive as held together by the year’s theme and I think this is consistent with St. Olaf’s reputation, but I don’t think we can call it worship. Most of the people are there because they love to sing and are in choir at one of the best schools for choir in the nation, not because they want to bring a gift of worship to the global community. It comes down to intent for me and I know that not everything that is offered is as wholly genuine as it could be.
I also think that Luther’s ideas on music can be congruent with the institution of Fest. Because music is a gift from God, it should be cherished and celebrated, and this action can take many forms. We do sing secular pieces, but it is the music that can also be appreciated and that in and of itself is something that St. Olaf obviously believes in, regardless of the intent of Christmas Fest. Luther believes that music drives away evil, and in the two Fest’s that I’ve been a part of, the theme has been something inspiring world peace. We may not be celebrating God outright in an overly ecclesial context, but the sentiment still stands that we are celebrating the musical gifts we are given (vocation) and contributing to a global effort to create community and stop evil.
To many people, it is confusing why the festival has verses from the Bible, but I think it should be understood that the purpose of Christmas Fest is to share the gift of music with the world, to spread hope in dark times, and in doing so we are praising God and serving him.