Solstice at the Cathedral brings the holiday spirit to Syracuse

The concert at St. Paul's in downtown Syracuse is celebrating its tenth anniversary.

Amid shopping for gifts and stringing colorful lights all over houses, there is one seemingly forgotten part of the holiday season: Winter Solstice. Falling on Dec. 21 this year, the Winter Solstice marks the end of the longest night of the year. In Downtown Syracuse, this event is celebrated weeks ahead of time with Solstice at the Cathedral.

The three-day, four-show concert and lights display takes place in St. Paul’s Cathedral with a host of musicians and special effects to bring the community together to commemorate the return of light after nearly 15 hours of darkness.

Ending an almost 10-year hiatus, Solstice at the Cathedral returned to Syracuse in 2015. The concert began in 1999 after Peter Constantino, Solstice at the Cathedral’s planner and director of People in the Seats Productions, was inspired by Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice in New York City. An avid listener of the show for over six years at the time, Constantino and his wife decided to make the trip down to the city to see the show. “I thought about bringing it back to Syracuse,” Constantino said. “The inspiration came from Paul Winter’s show and I wanted to do it justice.”

After a year and a half of extensive planning, Constantino visited St. Paul’s Cathedral in downtown Syracuse where he met with Monsignor Joseph “Father Joe” Champlin, who was interested in Constantino’s idea. “We took over the cathedral and turned it into a theater,” Constantino said. He and his team moved in on Monday and didn’t leave until the last performance on Saturday.

When Father Joe retired in 2006, Solstice at the Cathedral was discontinued until 2015. With Father Joe gone, it was like Solstice went with him. The nine-year hiatus finally ended when Constantino knew it needed to come back. “When Father Champlin retired, we retired, too,” he said. “From the amount of people who missed it and enjoyed it, I knew I had to bring it back. It’s the beginning of the holidays for so many people.”

At the start of the show’s revival, Constantino wanted to bring an evergreen outlook to Solstice at the Cathedral. “We did the same show almost two years in a row and saw attendance diminish a little bit,” he said. “We kept the closing number, but everything else comes to us fresh.” This year, the show’s 10th anniversary, about 95 percent of the original Solstice at the Cathedral has been changed.

The show’s format is meant to mimic the very event it is celebrating. Inside, the cathedral starts off with darkness. Winter Solstice celebrations commemorate going from dark days of our lives into a more optimistic time, and Solstice at the Cathedral wants to bring that physical experience to the people of Syracuse.

Constantino continues to try to make Solstice at the Cathedral a holiday celebration before the actual holidays, and with that comes bringing cheer and hopefulness to the community. “Someone’s counselor wrote a prescription that said ‘Go see Solstice at the Cathedral,’” he said. “A lot of people have said it’s been a gift to the community.”

Beginning Dec. 7, an array of regional musicians will fill the stage and local citizens will gather in the pews for the celebration. With performances by Joe Whiting, Matthew Vacanti and more, the special concerts will feature all sorts of musical genres like jazz, pop, blues and Celtic compositions.

With another year ready to go in the books, Constantino is preparing for the shows this weekend. Solstice at the Cathedral is a novel holiday celebration that even he can’t put into words. “Solstice is difficult for anyone to explain, and that’s a good thing.”

Tickets for the shows are available on the event’s website and at the door.

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