In a way, our society approaches Christmas backward. Considered as a religious celebration rather than a marketing opportunity, the Christmas season does not end on Dec. 25; that's when it begins, and it continues into January--to the feast of the Epiphany.

These points subtly underlay the programming of "Gloria! Gloria! A Holiday-Millennium Celebration," given by the New Dominion Chorale Thursday evening in St. Luke's Catholic Church in McLean. The evening opened with Francis Poulenc's rapturous "Gloria," which evokes the song of the angels at Bethlehem. A later highlight was the gently rustic "Shepherds' Farewell to the Holy Family," from Hector Berlioz's "L'Enfance du Christ" ("The Childhood of Christ"), marking the flight into Egypt and the end of the Christmas story. The message of peace was heard in segments of "Dona Nobis Pacem," by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

This is ambitious programming for a large community chorus that, since its founding in 1991, has accepted all applicants with no auditions required. Still, it is less ambitious than Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" and Brahms's "German Requiem," scheduled for later this season. The open admissions policy means that the chorus has three times as many altos as tenors and slightly more sopranos than altos, reflecting roughly the distribution of voices in the general population. When the whole chorus is singing, there is a slight treble emphasis, giving the music a silvery texture. The men's voices provide a firm foundation, and when they sing alone, their voices are solid, well-balanced and expertly trained.

The overall effect might remind you of home cooking rather than the menu of a fancy restaurant; it is robust, substantial, delicious and prepared with love--a very satisfactory experience. It remained essentially the same when the number of voices rose to well over a thousand in sing-along segments that included Psalm 100, "Auld Lang Syne" and carols arranged by the chorale's founder and music director, Thomas Beveridge.

Organist Paul Skevington played a baroque carol transcription by Louis-Claude Daquin, soprano Kay Krekow sang with limpid tone and deep expressiveness, and the orchestra, after an evening of accompaniments, took the spotlight for the final number, the "Radetzky" March of Johann Strauss Sr., with the audience clapping rhythmically and (most of the time) in fine unison.