In 1968, the Wartburg Community Symphony Orchestra, an oratorio chorus, and the Wartburg Choir and Castle Singers performed Handel’s Messiah in the gym, followed the next year by Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, which included the local high school chamber choir and a sixth-grade select choir.
The program moved back to Neumann Auditorium and took on a more dramatic flair in the early 1970s. The Castle Singers and the Wartburg Chamber Players presented A Christmas Carol in 1970 and The Play of Herod, a 13th century musical drama, in 1971, followed by Amahl and the Night Visitors in 1972. In 1973, drama students, the Wartburg Band, Castle Singers, Chamber Orchestra and Gospel Choir were involved in W.H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio.
Opera star Simon Estes joined the Wartburg faculty in 2002 as distinguished professor and artist-in-residence, and began making regular appearances with Christmas with Wartburg as a soloist and with the Wartburg Choir. Choir director Dr. Paul Torkelson described Estes’ 2006 performance of Sweet Little Jesus Boy as one of the “incredible moments” in the program’s history. Estes retired from Wartburg in 2016.
Large murals were added to the program in 2003. Janice Bergland hand-painted the first backdrops, which were used for more than one program. When Dr. Lee Nelson became the artistic director of the program, new murals were commissioned every year. Since 2011, Chris Knudson ’01 has been the mural artist and moved the creation to a digital process. Knudson also designs lighting effects that match the design and theme for each year.