Twinkling lights adorn the trees around campus, the Evelyn Young Dining Room glimmers with holiday decorations, and the risers appear in the chapel–all sure signs of the rapid approach of a favorite event on campus.
A highly anticipated event for alumni, current students and their families, Christmas in Christ Chapel returns to usher in the holiday season with performances on Dec. 6, 7, and 8.
This year, the event will feature two new faces, as Chaplains Siri Erickson and Brian Konkol participate in their first Christmas in Christ Chapel.
Planning for the event begins months in advance, and a committee composed of Choir Directors Dr. Greg Aune and Dr. Brandon Dean, Symphony Orchestra Director Ruth Lin, College Organist Dr. Chad Winterfeldt, and the Chaplain’s Office collaborate to create the program and select a unique theme. This year, the theme of the service is “Holy Wisdom, Holy Word: The Gates of Eden Are Open.”
According to Erickson, the chaplains are integral in shaping the theme and in focusing the liturgical elements for the service, working in close communication with the musical directors.
The initial inspiration of wisdom for the theme of the service was presented by former Chaplain Rachel Larson in the early stages of planning, and the program is also incorporating elements of feminist theology. One of former Chaplain Larson’s favorite theologians, Hildegard of Bingen, was a central point of inspiration.
“In a general sense, I’d say the umbrella theme for this year has some aspects of feminist theology which Rachel had identified as her vision, and the word for wisdom in Greek is Sofia, so that’s how the feminist theology sort of comes up,” Aune said.
Upon joining the campus staff in August, Chaplain Erickson embraced this concept, and enhanced the program’s focus by adding the element of “The Gates of Eden Are Open.”
“The overall theme for this year’s Christmas in Christ Chapel–Holy Wisdom, Holy Word: the Gates of Eden are Open–reflects in part the fall and redemption of humankind through the perspective of feminist theology. This thread or theme took shape in our initial planning as we explored and connected the idea of the term “Sophia–literally, Wisdom in the Greek translation of the bible– and how feminist theology and theologians have impacted the Christian tradition,” Erickson said.
Pieces of music are carefully selected to reflect the theme, which also traditionally reflects the story of the Nativity.
“In a way, my job with picking the music is easier than what Dr. A and Dr. D have to do, because they have to deal with text–so mine’s a little bit more abstract. I go and I listen to a lot of things and I think about what does wisdom mean musically, and how that applies, and part of it is also what I think would be a good selection to play,”Director of Symphony Orchestra Dr. Ruth Lin said.
Those attending the concert can expect more than just traditional Christmas carols.
“Christmas in Christ Chapel is a unique event on several levels. First, it functions as a communal worship experience rather than a Advent or Christmas “concert.” While the focus of the program always has the nativity as its’ core element, this philosophy has enabled us to explore and present programs that may center on theological, social, or cultural themes, which in turn allows our students the opportunity to perform a wide variety of music that reflects that particular year’s focus,” Aune said.
According to Aune, this approach allows students participating in the choir and orchestra to encounter a wide variety of music, as they perform pieces which provide a greater educational experience.
Though Aune said that one of the greatest challenges in the preparations for Christmas in Christ Chapel each year is the selection of a creative theme, the finale has remained a steady fixture. The choral rendition of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” commissioned by the college in 1876 is a favorite of many Gusties according to Aune.
“This is my own personal inside joke between me and the orchestra, but during “Oh Come all Ye Faithful” I always go over to the percussion and play the cymbals–that’s my favorite part,” Lin said.
Beyond the music and liturgy of the service, a great deal of visual planning goes into both the printed programs and the interior decoration of the Chapel space. The art for the programs is a selection of pieces from artist Trudi Doyle. Gustavus Alumnus John Young and Heroic Productions are integral in crafting the lighting displays. The Gustavus Physical Plant is additionally responsible for a large portion of the effort to prepare the interior of the Chapel.
Dr. Lin also credits the efforts of the students in the production of Christmas in Christ Chapel, noting that the majority of participants are non-music majors.
“I think this is a huge effort on the parts of our students and this really is a wonderful representation of the great diversity that we have on campus,” Lin said.
“It really is an event that touches so many different parts of campus, different offices, lots and lots of students,” Erickson said. “This will be my first Christmas in Christ Chapel to even see, and it’s fun to be able to be a part of shaping it.”
To reserve a free student ticket or to purchase tickets for the performances, visit gustavustickets.com.