What is it exactly that the machine of Christmas Fest stands for? Does Christmas Fest stand primarily as a worship service, glorifying God through a musical celebration of Christmas? Or perhaps the two hour long ordeal stands primarily as a concert? Certainly it would seem that Christmas Fest got its humble beginnings with the former. In this sense, St. Olaf’s Christmas Festival was created with the intention of creating, if not a worship service exactly, a worship-like environment for members of the community at hand and far away could come together in celebration of their common Lutheran heritage and Christmas.
Like many long-standing traditions though, Christmas Festival has morphed, emerged, evolved. Over time, the religious messages have remained, the gospel of Christ’s birth still told to its audience every performance. Yet there are what seem like countless numbers of aspects of the Festival that fly in the face of anything to do with an actual worship service. With high ticket prices, a message that seems to get buried within a Christiansen chorale here and a Vaughan Williams showstopper there, and an audience and community more wrapped up in the shallow traditions of Christmas Fest, it would begin to seem that any notions of a primarily religious Christmas Festival have long been lost.
Here I think, among many things which have already been discussed in great lengths in their blogs posts, Luther would take great issue with the domination of tradition in the planning of Christmas Fest’s yearly conception. On one hand, Christmas Fest’s play to the audience’s desire for tradition serves as a vehicle of sorts to allow the audience of Fest to approach the monstrous behemoth that is Fest and try and make sense of it, musically, academically, religiously. The audiences that come to Christmas Fest know exactly what to expect each and every year. In this sense Christmas Fest’s structure helps audiences understand ti more easily, which Luther would have supported. Yet still this blind traditionalism also belies the fact that it also permits a sense of complacency that I believe Luther would have abhorred. For we are in dangerous territory if we continue to ascribe to systems of theological/religious meaning that we leave unexamined to determine its relation to the message that’s intended to be conveyed.
In other words, if we want to best save Fest’s original purpose, and hold on to the event’s religious value, maybe it’s time that Fest no longer be done for the sake of keeping traditions strong, and we evaluate how those traditions can help it serve its purpose.