Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools production team records footage for K of C Carol Festival. Photo from Darcie Lich

Lights, camera, ‘Joy to the World’

  • December 16, 2023

For the 65th time since 1957, the Saskatchewan Knights of Columbus and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) joined forces in Advent to present the Knights of Columbus Carol Festival.

Described by Darcie Lich, the GSCS’ learning services coordinator, as a “long-standing tradition woven into the fabric of who we are,” this ritual unites elementary and secondary classes across the division. A three-person tech crew records each class crooning a different Christmas standard or fresh holiday hymn. Then, all these performances meld into a polished and intimate video production.

This year’s virtual concert was published on the GSCS YouTube channel Dec. 15 and features the vocal talents of students from 13 schools. No academy contributing to the festival in 2023 partook the year before. The board established that stipulation to ensure every school in the district is a perennial player in this celebrated custom.

Many modifications have transformed the carol festival from its formation in the late 1950s — an 11-school recital in the St. Paul High School gymnasium — to its current incarnation shaped by COVID-19. But the X-factor element has not been altered in over six decades: the timeless power and infectious pleasure of children and teenagers exuberantly singing.

“Just the sheer joy of hearing children’s voices does something for the heart that can’t be accomplished by a greeting card or even a cartoon special or a gift,” said Lich. “There is something magic and holy about the blessing a child’s voice can bring.”

Colin Wrishko, the Knights’ festival chairperson, said the fraternal organization values championing this annual endeavour as it “is about the kids, seeing them together living the faith.” He added the spiritual nature of the song lineup “recognizes that Jesus is the reason why we celebrate Christmas.”

One difference to this year’s recital that will be strikingly noticeable to devotees is the Knights’ choir missing from the lineup of performers. Musically inclined members have sung a tune for every previous festival. The omission this year is chalked up to scheduling conflicts. Wrishko, who recorded an on-camera thank you message for the broadcast, expressed confidence the Knights will return as an act in 2024.

The Knights’ workload in these proceedings has reduced in recent years, partially due to the transition from the festival being a grandiose in-person affair at the former Saskatoon Centennial Auditorium (now TCU Place) to its contemporary online manifestation that can be efficiently assembled by the GSCS team. The other reason is being sensitive to the aging of the Saskatchewan Knights.

“Over time, it was recognized that our friends are aging, and their population is diminishing,” said Lich. “Their capacity to offer a lot of volunteer time is also (lessening) for a number of reasons. We still want to honour their long-standing partnership with us because it is so valuable and rich. They still offer sponsorship through the means they are able to, but we don’t ask as much hard legwork any more.”

The carol fest was cancelled only once — 2020 — in its 66-year history. There were questions and concerns the following year about restoring the tradition because much remained unknown about how COVID-19 could spread via choir singing. After all, music at liturgical services was limited to instrumentation during most of the first 20 or so months of the global health emergency.

But the GSCS resolved to resurrect the festival in some form because “its loss was mourned and keenly, keenly felt in 2020,” said Lich.

During the pandemic, the festival went digital and has proven to bring several considerable benefits. It is substantially more cost-effective than producing a two-night concert in a 2,000-seat auditorium, it is easier to coordinate with classes if acts can be recorded during the regular schedule and people around the world can enjoy the music. 

“We had a little boy two years ago after our first video production who told his teacher that ‘my grandma cried when she saw me because she lives in the Philippines and she had never heard me sing before,’ ” said Lich.

Last year, the video was aired in one of Saskatoon’s homes for seniors. Lich said the board “received a letter stating the residents were smiling and waving at the kids on the screen.”

Wrishko recognized the value of the YouTube format “making it possible for more people to be entertained by the children” and believes “we lose a bit of the camaraderie that comes from all the kids being together at the live show.” Wrishko shared that his three adult children “all speak highly and fondly of those times. They remember looking up to the high school children and just having a good, memorable experience. They commented that it is gone.”

The Knight does not see the GSCS deviating from its current system in the foreseeable future. He said maybe nostalgia for the old days could kick in one of these years and that could inspire a shift to a hybrid offering.

What says Lich?

“I think there is nothing saying that we are always going to be doing it this way forever,” said Lich. “There is an opportunity to say, ‘now that we have shifted a few things maybe we could shift again, and it won’t be so frightening or daunting to the community.’ ”

To view the performances, see

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