Though we now think of the Christmas season running from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, there was a time when Christmas itself actually began on December 25 and extended to January 6, the full “Twelve Days of Christmas” known to us in song. The season itself was thought of as a full 40 days, ending on February 2. Johann Sebastian Bach composed a series of six church cantatas to be performed on the principal Christmas feasts between Christmas Day and Epiphany, telling the entire Christmas story from the manger and the announcement to the shepherds to the wandering star and the visit of the Magi. Never has the familiar story been so elegantly told as in these festive pieces that burst forth with radiance and vocal splendor. Basically Bach’s performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio are notable not only because they are Chicago’s first on period instruments, but also because of the high quality of the soloists, including Carol Loverde, Steven Rickards, David Gordon, and Andrew Schultze. Now that the shopping and bustle are over, enjoying this unique masterpiece on Epiphany weekend is the perfect joyous finale to the season. Tonight, 7:30 PM, Cathedral of Saint James, 65 E. Huron; Saturday, 7:30 PM, First’ Congregational Church of Evanston, 1417 Hinman, Evanston; Sunday, 7 PM, First United Church of Oak Park, 848 Lake, Oak Park; 508-0635.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Ziv.