Christmas in Christ Chapel: O Come All Ye Faithful
Holiday traditions vary around the world, from trimming a tree to playing games, sharing a meal, and spending quality time with family and friends. No matter where or how you celebrate the holiday season, one thing is for certain, it doesn’t feel complete without music.
For many, a favorite musical tradition is Christmas in Christ Chapel from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.
Audiences nationwide have been celebrating the season with Christmas in Christ Chapel since 1973. Unlike other holiday performances, this beloved event honors the message of Christmas through readings, prayer, music, and dance.
“It’s not a concert; it’s a highly integrated worship service,” said Dr. Brandon Dean, Jon and Anita Thomsen Young Distinguished Endowed Chair in Music and Conductor of the Gustavus Choir. “The deeper liturgical leaning definitely creates a distinctive experience for our audience.”
Christmas in Christ Chapel has grown since that first performance nearly 50 years ago. It now showcases over 350 students from more than five different musical ensembles, along with flawless liturgical dance, spoken word, and visual arts. This truly inspirational event is held in one of the crown jewel performance spaces in the Midwest: Christ Chapel. Located in the center of the Gustavus Adolphus campus, this beautiful space acts as a meeting place for the Gustavus community and its extended family, welcoming more than 1,000 guests at each of the five Christmas in Christ Chapel services. For those unable to attend in person, the college also live streams the Saturday evening event.
Planning this annual event is a year-round process, involving a standing committee of faculty, administrators, and staff. Once the committee forms, it’s permanently in place. They usually identify the artistic director for the service several years in advance. The artistic director – often a Gustavus Adolphus chaplain – takes the lead on the liturgical impetus for the program and service. After arriving on the message, they bring it to the committee, which discusses, debates, tweaks, reworks, and, sometimes, even changes directions entirely to bring the overall vision to life.
The Christmas in Christ Chapel committee holds regular meetings throughout the year, increasing in frequency as the event gets closer. Preparing the chapel takes 126 hours over 3-1/2 days. By Thanksgiving, Christ Chapel has completely transformed in preparation for the service, with the custom risers and scenic elements in place, the space is ready for final rehearsals.
“The sheer amount of time that the committee members spend planning and executing the event is pretty considerable,” Dean said. “This is truly one of the signature events of the campus.”
This year, Christmas in Christ Chapel will celebrate the theme “Love Beyond Borders.” This powerful service will follow the incarnation story in the gospel of Matthew, connect audiences to God’s love, and inspire everyone to transcend the borders that keep us divided from one another and from God’s reign of justice and compassion in our world.
“While the Christmas in Christ Chapel message changes each year, one thing remains the same. We always end with the hymn O Come All Ye Faithful,” Dean said. “We’ve done that every year since the beginning, except for one. The negative response that year made it clear that some traditions should remain untouched.”
A version of last year’s service will air this holiday season across the country on public television. Check your local PBS provider for viewing times. For more information, go to the Christmas in Chapel website.
You can also visit Christ Chapel in virtual reality with our 360-degree tour.