The good and ugly sides of Christmas Fest

The holiday season is quickly approaching. And by the holiday season at St. Olaf, what I am talking about is smelly fish, an increase in the over-40 crowd and oh, yeah … this little thing called Christmas Fest.

There are so many beautiful things about this time of year. The Hill will get a nice blanket of snow. Students will pull out their mini Christmas trees and decorate their walls with paper snowflakes. Everyone and everything sparkles in the month of December, except when the Oles are pouring coffee down their throats like it is going out of style and getting all of their mail forwarded to Rolvaag Library.

I attended the 100th Annual Christmas Festival last year, and it was a truly moving performance. Our friends have given so much of their time preparing for the show, and when you see their faces as they sing, you know they think it was worth it. But I wonder if the whole Norwegian package is really needed to usher in the Christmas Festival magic. When I talk about the Norwegian package, you know I am talking about when the Caf travels back to 19th-century Norway to serve us odd-smelling fish lutefisk, weird bread/pastry things lefse and bland side dishes for four days in the beginning of December.

I know the school is traditionally a Norwegian institution, but why do they need to serve these odd foods for four days? Trust me, everyone knows St. Olaf used to be a bunch of Lutheran Norwegians. I, along with the majority of the St. Olaf community today, am not of Norwegian descent, and lefse and lutefisk don’t trigger happy childhood memories of the perfect Christmas meal my grandma makes. And for the few who are Norwegian, I constantly hear them complaining about the dishes served. They walk around the Caf saying things like, “This doesn’t taste like my grandma’s lefse” #Olafproblems. So really, no one is happy with four nights of old-fashioned Norwegian cuisine. One night of smelly fish and funky bread is enough for everyone.

Now that I am done ranting about Norwegian foods, let us dive deeper into the magic that is Christmas Fest. One of my personal favorite Christmas Festival memories from last year are the wardrobe choices people make to attend the concert. There are very few occasions when you see a campus full of well-dressed men and women pull out their grandma sweaters, but St. Olaf brings out the holiday spirit in even the most unlikely candidates. And not only does a large percentage of the St. Olaf community come to the Christmas concert decked out in their reindeer sweaters or Norwegian pride attire, but many students seemed to have coordinated outfits with their parents. It is truly precious seeing twenty-something college students posing for a photo where they are hugging their parents in matching Santa sweaters. I would like to extend the definition of the true meaning of the holiday season to include a picture of the St. Olaf community entering the performance, because it is a sight one wants committed to film – everyone is just grinning from ear to ear.

It means a lot that when St. Olaf does Christmas Fest. The college really goes all out. A friend of mine has six-plus family members coming to Northfield just to see Christmas Fest this year – some are even flying in from California. This friend is not Norwegian, nor in Christmas Fest! This says a lot about the holiday magic of our little hilltop community. When one decides to fly in to see a group of students sing and not even know anyone in the show, you know there is something extraordinary about the way Oles do the holiday season.