This year, on the 96th anniversary of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, the service of hymns, carols, choral works and orchestral selections was simulcast for the first time live via satellite to a select group of movie theatres nationwide.
Although the service is making its big screen debut this year, not much else has changed since F. Melius Christiansen, the founder of the St. Olaf College Music Department, initiated the service in 1912.
Featuring all five choirs of the College -- the St. Olaf Choir, the Viking Chorus, the Chapel Choir, the Cantorei and the Manitou Singers -- along with the St. Olaf Orchestra, the Festival has become a dear tradition precipitating the start of the Christmas season for many.
Those who have come to call the festival a significant part of the Christmas season include The New York Times International Datebook, which includes it in one of only five significant international holiday events, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and TV Guide.
The idea to simulcast the event was initiated by Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), who has in the past broadcast the festival as a Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) special.
Initially hesitant after viewing a simulcast of the metropolitan opera, St. Olaf decided to move ahead with plans.
Jean Callister-Benson, who manages all ticketing at St. Olaf said, "We started small in just five theatres where we had alums, but before we knew it we had 196 theatres."
At these 196 theatres across the United States, approximately 9,200 tickets were sold. Callister-Benson said the college is "overall very, very pleased with the outcome."
The simulcast was a great option for St. Olaf because it served, at least to some extent, as a consolation to those who were unable to see the performance live. With only 12,000 seats in Skoglund and over 40,000 alumni, "it is always a constant battle to decide who gets tickets and who doesn't," Callister-Benson explained
For those who were unable to make the trip to St. Olaf for the festival either because of weather or because of distance, the theatres offered a nice alternative.
Mary Coulson '11 commented on what a nice option it was for her parents. "My parents came to see me on Saturday, but my mom also went to go see it on Sunday in the theatres, which was really neat because she got to see the directors and the choir much better than you can in the Auditorium," she said.
Will McLean '11 of Viking Chorus enjoyed participating in the event. "Being in Christmas Festival was an experience like none other. With all of the music, the people, and the food, it's pretty tough to top."
His comment echoes hundreds of others that have been pouring into St. Olaf from simulcast viewers.
One St. Louis Park resident commented, "As a whole it was a rousing success. Thanks for sharing it with so many that could not have otherwise made it."
For those who didn't catch the festival live or in theatres, there is still a chance to share in the Christmas tradition The simulcast will be shown on PBS and is currently being produced on DVD.