The 66th Festival of Christmas is a “Celebration of Faith”

This year’s Festival of Christmas centered on the theme King of Kings, helping audiences shift their perspective from the busyness of their daily lives to the glorious gift of this Christmas season.

By Katie Johnson ’19, content specialist

December 07, 2022 | 10 a.m.

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Last weekend, the Bethel community braved the Minnesota weather and gathered to celebrate the 66th annual Festival of Christmas. Individuals of all ages, experiences, and different connections to Bethel came together to worship the King of Kings, ringing in the Christmas season with awe, wonder, and beautiful performances that combined traditions close to the heart of the Bethel identity—and fun, self-expression unique to each musician on stage.

Festival artistic director Merrin Guice Gill and producer Kevin Shull wanted to intentionally honor the tradition of Festival of Christmas, which is sacred to the Bethel community, while also choosing music that excites current students and directors. “From a vocal standpoint for the music this year, there was some really exciting and beautiful pieces, which goes to show the different kind of ways that we can express our praise,” Guice Gill says.

Shull notes that the concert started and ended with classical pieces, but the middle offered all sorts of variety, ultimately centering on this year’s theme: King of Kings. Knowing that 2022 was an election year, Guice Gill and Shull wanted to offer the audience an opportunity to shift their perspectives heavenward after the 2022 election season. “Festival of Christmas is not just a concert. It is a celebration of faith,” Guice Gill says. “We’re not just singing correct notes and rhythms—we’re delivering a message.”

The performances started, as always, with a few words from President Ross Allen, which led into the processional. The Festival Choir entered Benson Great Hall carrying multicolored candles, singing “There Shall a Star from Jacob Come Forth” from Cristus. A chill washed over the audience as each individual was gradually transported from the busyness of their daily lives to the beauty of the performance. Each song illuminated a new dimension to the theme, from “The First Noel” performed by the Handbell Ensemble and Orchestra to “Northern Lights” sung by the Bethel Choir to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” which required audience participation.

A few new elements were added to this year’s performance as well, including new risers that curved along the ends and three “angels” who narrated the different sections of the program with their dramatic readings of Scripture. The program is planned over the summer, when the music and theatre department faculty gather to strategize and dream about this treasured hallmark of the Bethel experience. Guice Gill casts the overall vision of the year’s theme, while Shull ensures this vision can be achieved within the performance space and available resources. Different faculty members share their ideas and expertise, and that collaboration not only elevates the concert but gives life to every artist involved.

And this excitement trickles down to the students, who find their own personal investment in the music and performances. The care and creativity infusing each step of preparing for this weekend of performances reaches the audiences as well, setting Festival of Christmas at Bethel apart from different universities’ Christmas concerts. “My favorite compliment came last year from a church member, who said ‘I loved Festival because I felt like it was actually faith-based. I felt like it was actually a musical service, not just a concert,’” Guice Gill recalls. “And that is really the goal. I want people to leave with a feeling of the Spirit with the true point of Christmas, which is worship.”


Glorifying God and Serving Others Through Music

After all the private lessons, long hours in practice rooms, and dress rehearsals, students in Bethel’s Music and Theatre program leave ready for a lifetime of sharing their gifts. We’re all about taking our faith in Christ and integrating it into everything we learn, into everything we do, so we can accomplish incredible things—in our careers, in our communities, and in our world.

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