Monday, December 20, 2010

Welcome Yule: In Praise of Revelry

Tomorrow is the date of the Winter Solstice; in the northern hemisphere, the day with the least amount of daylight.

There are those of many faiths, who have remembered this time of year from time immemorial, as a sign of “going into that darkest time of the year, and then coming out of it.” This memorial has been made holy by the message of a Savior, a message which the world has forgotten. But not all.

The Revels is the brainchild of John Langstaff (1920-2005), an early music connoisseur, who led the first performance of "The Christmas Revels" in New York City in 1957. A celebration of the winter solstice, both from the pagan tradition, and that which was sanctified by the onset of Christianity, involves both a cast of its locality's most talented performers of all ages, and incorporates the audience as well.

The longest running annual performance dates to 1971 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near where Revels Incorporated has its base. The event is also held in nine other cities, including Boulder (CO), Hanover (NH), Houston (TX), New York City (NY), Oakland (CA), Portland (OR), Santa Barbara (CA), Tacoma (WA), and Washington (DC). The theme of the 2010 Washington production, for example, visited the world of the French Canadians. This writer recalls around the late 1980s when the Washington Revels created a fantasy scene, where a family from the southern mountains of Appalachia magically encountered a counterpart in the Russian frontier. The result was a celebration of dance and song where two disparate traditions came together as one, at a time in human history when the world was bearing witness to the same.

The celebrations held by the Revels are not limited to the Yuletide season, but welcome the spring, as well as the onset of the harvest. Their productions have inspired independent endeavors in many other cities as well. Even with the passing of Langstaff in 2005, the seed continues to bear fruit.

We will let the videos tell the story for themselves, and there is also a program book from last year's performance in Cambridge, available for download. There are other ideas for celebrating the season yet to be featured. One of them is featured tomorrow. Stay tuned ...

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