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Christmas at Luther

How do non-Christians experience this Luther tradition?

Grace Onsrud, Staff Writer

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Christmas at Luther (CAL) is an annual performance that brings Luther choirs, instrumental groups, students, and community members together with songs and readings from Christian traditions. Christmas trees with twinkling lights and decorations are put up in the Center for Faith and Life (CFL) and Bentdahl Commons. Audience members gather together for a night of music. But how is this time of year experienced by non-Christian students?

Students of many faiths have a diverse variety of reasons for participating in the CAL festivities.

Iju Regmi (‘20) is a Hindu student who works at the box office in the CFL. She said the box office became a busy place in the weeks leading up to CAL.

“We sent invitations to every parent and all alumni in the mail,” Regmi said. “Then they called us for tickets and after that we had to make sure that sponsors and alums and parents of the performers got seats and then students and the public.”

She said that she had not realized the campus-wide effect of CAL before she started working in the box office. She attended the show three times as part of her job and she said that though she is not Christian, she enjoys being immersed in a culture different from what she grew up with.

“I just see it as part of the culture I am living in while I am here,” Regmi said. “A lot of the alums that come, even if they are not Christians, are still coming to see Christmas at Luther. I think it’s more about gathering together and having a connection with the Luther community.”

Kien Dao (‘20) | Photo Bureau
Torgerson Concertmaster Elizabeth Shoemaker (‘18) plays her violin during the 2017 Christmas at Luther concert.

Member of Collegiate Choir Laila Sahir (‘18) described herself as spiritual, but not necessarily religious. She described her experience of CAL as a way to connect with others. She characterized the performance as selfless, which is why she thinks it is important to realize that each person in the audience will extract something different.

“Spirituality is an important part of life, but it is highly individualized,” Sahir said. “So it’s cool to see so many people in one room that all live completely different lives. Everyone is together for this one moment in time, sharing the same experience and that experience becomes part of everyone’s different stories.”

Anila Bano (‘20) is a Muslim student who volunteered as an usher for one of the showings this year. She said that she appreciates the way that music can bring people together at events like CAL.

“Last year I didn’t go with any friends so I was surrounded by strangers where I was sitting,” Bano said. “We were all strangers to each other, but when we were all singing together, that created such a strong feeling of connection amongst people regardless of what we believe in. I think music created that moment.”

Bano said that she feels a religious connection to the music of CAL even though she is not Christian. She described some similarities between Christianity and Islam.

“I think Christianity and Islam are closer to each other than any of the other religions,” Bano said. “We do love Jesus also, so we do see that with respect. For us, Jesus is a prophet and the messages that we hear in CAL are very much similar to some messages in the Holy Quran. So apart from the good music and the unity, I also see it as a celebration of something that is important to Muslims: the birth of Jesus.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion Alyssa Henning emphasized that there are many reasons why people might be driven to attend Christmas at Luther, whether it be a desire to worship, play music, or experience a connection with a community. She said it is important to acknowledge these complexities.

“Not everyone who goes to Christmas at Luther is going because of the religious message, and that’s okay,” Henning said. “I go to Christmas at Luther every year that I’ve been here because I want to see my students singing and playing their instruments because I know they’ve been working really hard on this. So everyone who’s in the audience is probably coming for different reasons.”

Henning said she also hopes that there is an awareness on campus that religion plays a large part in CAL, especially in a society where Christianity is seen as default.

“The music at Christmas at Luther is sacred music,” Henning said. “There are hymns and songs about the narratives of the gospel. That’s a distinctly religious set of music. So to recognize and appreciate that Christmas at Luther is a display of religious or sacred music is important. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but we want to be aware that that’s what that music is and not everyone may feel comfortable singing it.”

Cassie Michel (‘20) is a Christian student who sang in Cantorei at CAL. She said that her faith is a large part of why she enjoys participating in CAL because she can deeply relate to the texts of many of the sacred songs, but there are other reasons as well.

“Christmas at Luther is a unique and wonderful experience for me,” Michel said. “Part of that is because of the connection to my faith and the aspect of worship, but it’s also about the sense of the community, within my choir as well as with everyone involved. Also I just really like the music.”

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