Members of St. Olaf Choir, Manitou, Chamber Choir, St. Olaf Orchestra, Viking Choir, Cantorei, and their respective directors Photo Courtesy of Steven Garcia
Many local Northfield businesses are concerned about the impact relocating Christmas Fest to Orchestra Hall for a second year will have on Northfield local businesses. “We hope college leadership will consider the harm to the community, the loss of connection and mutuality, as an important factor in their decision making,” said Content Bookstore Store Manager David Wolff in an email interview with The Olaf Messenger. Wolff is not the only business owner to express concern with the move.
“These high volume weekends are so important for business operations and give our team and business a great boost before the slower months of January and February,” said Ole Store Restaurant Owner and General Manager Kendall Clement in an email interview with The Olaf Messenger.
St. Olaf Christmas Fest, a long-standing tradition and internationally recognized concert, is the prime event of the holiday season for many, especially those on the Hill, families of Oles, and alumni. The concert plays an important role in the Northfield community as well as bringing many visitors to local restaurants and stores. However, with the newly established two year rotation of Christmas Fest, moving between Skoglund Auditorium and Orchestra Hall, questions have been raised as to whether this change is a good decision for the community.
“Of course correlation doesn’t imply causation, but our sales for [Christmas Fest] weekend in 2022 were down 15 percent from 2021,” said Wolff in an email interview. “Which was surprising given that our sales for the year overall were up 5 percent over 2021, and the rest of December 2022 was up 11 percent.” Annually, Christmas Fest garners a large amount of publicity to Northfield. This aids businesses within the community to increase profits and visibility.
“The Ole Store was a big part of the Christmas Fest tradition for visitors, not only our location but the long-standing history for the Ole Store rounded out guests’ experience with Christmas Fest,” said Clement in an email interview.
When asked whether the college took into consideration the impact of the change would have on the Northfield community, Vice President for Enrollment and College Communications Michael Kyle wrote in an email interview with The Olaf Messenger, “When we made the decision to have the 2023 Christmas Festival at Orchestra Hall, we were in contact with the Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce to again assure them of our commitment to the community.”
However, local businesses are not the only ones concerned with the switch. Student performers voiced their opinions on the limited availability of tickets and logistical concerns. Due to the commuting time, many find it difficult to find the time to prepare for their classes. “Having to spend several hours a day just commuting, finding my room, or finding a place to change or do homework seemed inefficient at best, and it’s not fair to do that to students right before finals,” said Atle Wammer ’24 in an email interview with the Olaf Messenger.
Logistical challenges such as an additional travel cost and more competitive tickets make it difficult for students, families, and alumni to all attend the concert. “It’s not fair to make families and alumni fight over tickets to [Christmas Fest]. It’s also harder on the students,” Kayla Kroschel ’24 said in an email interview with the Olaf Messenger. “It used to be easy for students to go to [Christmas Fest], but now they have to figure out rides and parking.”
Christmas Fest is an important St. Olaf tradition ingrained in many Oles’ experiences on the Hill. Norwegian food is served in Stav Hall, decorations are set all around campus, and other holiday events such as the Handbell Choir performance take place on campus, making the weekend even more special. The change to Orchestra Hall creates a separation between the two, making it seem less of a St. Olaf tradition.
“Not having it on campus really takes away from the environment and holiday spirit on campus during the holiday,” said Kroschel ’24 in an email interview. “There’s just something exciting in the air when it’s on campus.”
The holiday spirit associated with the event was also perceived to be absent on campus when Christmas Fest was in Orchestra Hall. “We are known for our Christmas Festival and we don’t need to go to Minneapolis for publicity,” said Wammer ’24 in an email interview. “If you want Christmas in Minneapolis, go to Concordia.”
Despite this, students still find the opportunity to perform in an official grand concert venue like Orchestra Hall to be a positive experience. “We bring the Hill to Orchestra Hall since families, friends, and alumni can still join us for the concert,” said Michaela Tucci ’25 in an email interview with the Olaf Messenger. “Home is where the heart is, and this year the heart moved to Orchestra Hall.”
“From a musical standpoint, I much prefer playing at [Orchestra Hall],” said Veronica White ’24 in an email interview with The Olaf Messenger. “It’s a space that was created for music to be performed in rather than [Skoglund], a space that has to be transformed into something that it’s not really meant for.”
To the satisfaction of many, Christmas Fest will return to the St. Olaf campus for both the 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 academic years per the agreement the College has with Orchestra Hall for a two year rotation. Current and past Oles can return to the Hill for the traditional Christmas Fest activities on campus, and visitors can come to explore the local businesses in downtown Northfield once again.