Christmas Vespers has been a Hope College tradition beginning its eighth decade.
The 2011 services will be held Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3-4. Participating groups will include Hope's College Chorus, Chapel Choir, and Symphonette, as well as organists and instrumental ensembles.
Several thousand of members of the Holland and Hope communities gather for the services each year. For many families, the event has been a highlight for generations.
Christmas Vespers was first held on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, at 4 p.m. The timing was fateful--the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor only hours before, precipitating the entry of the United States into World War II.
The program was sponsored, the "Anchor" noted at the time, by the college's Musical Arts club as the first of a series "designed to give music students of Hope an opportunity to perform in public and to bring to public attention the work of the music school." Approximately 500 attended, the "Holland Evening Sentinel" reported afterward.
Vespers today takes place on a scale that 1941's organizers could scarcely have imagined. The college regularly starts receiving inquiries about tickets in August. Demand is so high that almost all those available to the general public are sold during the first morning they are offered in mid-November.
In response to the interest, Hope now presents four services. All four regularly play to capacity crowds in Dimnent Memorial Chapel, totaling more than 4,000 audience members each year.
Christmas Vespers is also featured on PBS television and radio stations around the country.
Photos from 2010 Christmas Vespers