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ISSUE 120 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 12/1/2006

Christmas Festival unites

By Andrea Horbinski
Staff Writer

Friday, December 1, 2006

In his poem "De Rerum Natura" the ancient Roman writer Lucretius describes the philosophical pleasure of watching a battle without participating in it. In one of my Latin classes a friend once used the example of "the pleasure of not participating in Christmas Fest" to bring Lucretius' point home to us.

Yes, it's that extra-special week of the year again, when campus fills with the smell (some would say stench) of lutefisk and hordes of Norwegian-sweater-wearing alumni and friends descend on Northfield and the campus, intent on sharing in our annual celebration of Christmas joy.

As a former member of the St. Olaf Philharmonia I never had the (dubious?) pleasure of participating in Christmas Fest directly, but I did usher the event for two years, and I even went to Bon Appétit's "Norwegian Banquet" once on my parents' dime. There's certainly something admirable in the way St. Olaf throws itself into the celebration of Christmas - professionally decorated trees in Buntrock Commons, garlands around the light poles, welcome banners flying - and yet insists that ushers never refer to the performance itself as a "show" but as a "worship service."

I find the (for the most part) calm dedication of the student performers even more admirable. The end of the fall semester is hard enough for me without piling weeks of mass and solo choir rehearsals, to say nothing of a two and a half hour performance four days in a row, into it as well. Yet, though I occasionally see them sprinting from one end of campus to the other in the afternoon, in true Norwegian fashion I don't really hear much unsolicited complaining. Maybe performers are just too fatigued to expend the energy to move their jaws and vocal cords at the same time after all that singing, or bowing, or playing. Maybe the experience is worth all the physical pain I've heard so much about. More likely, both are true.

What everyone does love to complain about, however, is the lutefisk. For every person I've met at St. Olaf who devours it avidly I can point out three whose only interest is to decide whether it smells more like cat pee or rotten fish. But love it or hate it (and I've tried it), lutefisk, lefse, the small china coffee cups and the pork loin with apricot stuffing are as much a part of the season as Christmas Fest itself.

Before coming to St. Olaf, I attended private Quaker schools where the celebration of Christmas was a big deal (though Quakers didn't really start observing the holiday until the 1950s, when it became commercial), but I suppose someone from a different educational or religious background might find Olaf's celebrations a bit jarring. Hopefully, no matter what his or her views on Christ or Christmas, no one at St. Olaf will feel excluded or unwelcome at this time of the year.

This is certainly when the campus is really at its most united: We all smell the same lutefisk, enjoy the same Christmas Fest performance and sympathize with the same student performers and Bon Appétit workers. Many of us even sport the same, or very similar-looking, Norwegian sweaters. There are few things that say "St. Olaf" like Christmas Fest, and no one should hesitate to join in that chorus.

Opinions Editor Andrea Horbinski is a senior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in classics and in Asian studies with a Japan studies concentration.

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