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“Immanuel, God With Us”: Festival of Christmas 2015

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Thousands of student musicians, families, alumni, and donors celebrated the 59th annual Festival—“Immanuel, God With Us”—on December 3-5.

As is tradition, nearly 100 Bethel Choir, Women’s Chorale, and Festival Choir vocalists took the stage from various Benson Great Hall entrances in a candlelit processional, singing an arrangement of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The Wind Symphony, Festival Orchestra, and Handbell Ensemble rounded out the performance along with an impressive display of Christmas decor, special lighting, and creative narrations.

“It was a bittersweet Festival of Christmas this year,” says Department of Music Chair Jon Veenker. “We are excited to welcome Dr. Gene Peterson as the new artistic director of Festival and the fourth conductor of the Bethel Choir, but we also miss Lynda Bradley-Vacco's leadership of the orchestra. We are grateful to Professor Cary John Franklin for stepping in to conduct the orchestra.” Bradley-Vacco passed away in August after a battle with breast cancer.

“The reality of ‘God with us’ was so apparent in the way the students played and sang, the way the congregation participated, the way the greeters, attendants, and servers smiled. It was a celebration of His light in us! I am thankful to be a part of a community that celebrated more than a season, but the joyous truth of the Christ child,” says Artistic Director Gene Peterson.

The weekend also included a number of other festive touches. From the moment patrons entered the campus buildings, they were serenaded by student musicians performing Christmas music. There was also the traditional Swedish smörgåsbord dinner, a by-invite-only event given in recognition of Bethel’s staff, faculty, retirees, and donors. This year’s smörgåsbord included 220 pounds of mashed rutabagas, 130 gallons of coffee—always decaf—and 4,650 Swedish meatballs. The only smörgåsbord food that wasn’t made on-site by Bethel’s food service provider, Sodexo, is the lefse. The traditional Scandinavian flatbread is special-ordered for the event.

“It is always my prayer that Festival will first and foremost be glorifying to God, and that it will ultimately bear fruit in the lives of those who attend each performance and receive the most profound truths in a way that only music can impart,” says Kevin Shull, Handbell Ensemble conductor and producer of Festival of Christmas. “It is also my hope that it will be a transformative faith-building experience for each student who sings or plays an instrument here at Bethel…one that they will look back on with fondness, cherishing it now and throughout their lives.”

Next year’s 60th annual Festival of Christmas will feature an alumni choir, and more information about the program dates and alumni opportunities will be available in the spring. Purchase a CD recording of "Immanuel, God With Us.”