Madrigal Dinners: Celebrating 50 Years of Holiday Cheer

BY ELYSE PAUL ’20

For 50 years Saint Mary’s College has put on the Classic Christmas Madrigal Dinner.  This cherished tradition never fails to put guests and performers in the holiday spirit. The Christmas Madrigal Dinner is an intimate dinner-theater event held in Rice Commons, where singers, dancers, actors, and musicians perform right in front of audiences. Rice Commons is transformed to a renaissance style banquet hall, complete with a roaring fire, candles, spruce, pine, wreaths, and holiday decor to whisk the community away into a story of the Christmastide. This campus tradition is presented by the music department featuring members of the choir. Other campus partners contribute as actors, musicians, dancers, servers, costume designers, and set designers. This event is truly one that leaves audiences and performers alike humming carols.

To mark the 50th anniversary, a new song titled “The Question Carol” has been commissioned by Paul Carey for the singers to perform among other traditional songs. Additionally, alumnae performers from the last 50 years have been invited to return for the show. To date, over 850 performers have graced the Christmas Madrigal stage. These performers include community members, staff, faculty, and students from the tri-campus community. 

Jaclyn Schramm ‘17, was a member of the Women’s Choir and sang in the Christmas Madrigal Dinner for four years as an undergraduate. This year, she is excited to attend the dinner for the first time as an audience member. When asked for her favorite Madrigal memory, Schramm could not decide. “I really loved all of it! My senior year, I had a solo in one of our songs we performed, so that was really special for me. I always loved singing Silent Night at the end of each show while audience members joined in singing.”

Even current student performers talk about the meaning of performing in Madrigals each year, Jaden Daher ‘23 danced in Madrigals as a first year and said she had no idea what she was getting into. However, when she stepped into the student lounge in Regina Hall, she could not believe her eyes. “The immaculate decorations, the costumes, the music, the smell of wassail…everything transformed the hall that I passed through every day into a place of pure Christmas joy. For me, witnessing this transformation has become quintessential for the transition into the Christmas season at Saint Mary’s. In the time of the semester that is often stressful and busy for everyone, Madrigals offers us a space to remember to be joyful,” Daher said.

The event attracts new and returning guests each year. The story, songs, dances, and music play a key role in setting the mood for the evening. Unlike a traditional performance setting, audiences are seated up close to the action and cast members are encouraged to interact with guests. Schramm recalled that she enjoyed getting the opportunity to interact with audience members while singing, especially the children in attendance. 

Not only is this event a cherished tradition for the community, it is a cherished memory of past and present performers. Many of the carols stick in your head through the holiday season and for years beyond. Cast members create a close bond during the performance process and appreciate the opportunity to return and experience the performance once again.

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