Williston artist creates virtual holiday experience

Christmas tradition continues despite pandemic

BY SUSAN COTE, Observer staff

Williston resident and artist Victoria Fraser has performed Christmas stories for live audiences for 39 years. Over time, she has written seven stories, which meld the imagery of Christmas and of the natural world, performing them in cycles, one each year. In 2020, amidst the pandemic, she has found a new way to carry on this tradition. 

As a child, Fraser loved Christmas. In adulthood, like many, she yearned for a more soulful experience of the holiday. Unlike many, she decided to do something about it. Using her German heritage and the origins of the Christmas tree as a jumping off point, she embarked on a journey of discovery into the iconography of Christmas that included interviewing leaders of different Christian traditions, including protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches, and studying artwork on the subject, its images and symbols.

From her research she developed a deeper understanding of Christmas and its place in humankind’s experience of Earth’s seasons, in particular how the darkness of winter in the northern hemisphere prepares our planet for rebirth. With this, she created her stories to share these meanings with others. 

First performed during services at Christ Church, Presbyterian in Burlington, in recent years Fraser’s stories have been staged at Burlington’s North End Studios. Back in March, Fraser again reserved a theater for this year’s event. As the months progressed, however, it became apparent the COVID-19 crisis would make her usual approach unworkable. 

Skipping this year was not an option. 

“People who have come to my stories have been nourished and supported by them. This wasn’t the year for me to not do my story. If people needed the stories, I needed to produce them,” said Fraser. 

The idea of capturing the experience on video was born. She had long wanted to document the stories and to be able to share them with friends around the world. This year that desire became a necessity. 

Filming a video, which Fraser did from her own living room in Williston with the help of Burlington videographers from RetroMotion, was a much different challenge than a live performance. Extensive work went into preparations, including lighting, sound equipment and a set. COVID safety precautions had to be followed. Not being a sound-proof location, the team had to contend with one interval of F-35 flight noise, her cat was boarded offsite for a day so her attention-seeking meows wouldn’t end up on tape, and even the refrigerator had to be unplugged. 

The resulting video, titled “The Great Tree of Christmas,” presents the first of the seven stories in Fraser’s Christmas Cycle. According to a new website she developed about her project, she first told this story in 1982, focusing on how the evergreen Tree of Life came into our hearts and homes through the journey of St. Boniface and the Germanic tribes. 

There are two ways to experience this year’s event. Saturday, Dec. 19, an inaugural video screening will be followed by a Zoom gathering and carol sing featuring Vermont pianist Thomas Jones. From Sunday, Dec. 20 to Tuesday, Dec. 22, on-demand access will be available for the performance video only. Tickets for both options may be purchased at Fraser does not wish cost to be an obstacle, so tiered pricing is offered.