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    ‘Revels’ Captures Timeless Magic of the Reason for the Season

    The winter solstice—the shortest day and longest night of the year—has long captivated humanity. Several Neolithic monuments from the Stone Age, such as Newgrange in Ireland, were built in alignment with the sunrise on the winter solstice, which depending on the year occurs between December 20–23. While city lights and the indoor lifestyle of modern times have lessened our awareness of celestial happenings, they remain an ever-present and still profoundly influential aspect of all of our lives.

    At the root of nearly all holidays this month, the winter solstice has also inspired countless artists over the millennia. Related musical, dance, and other artistic works—both old and new—were cleverly compiled into productions led by musician and educator John Langstaff (1920–2005). The performances, called the Christmas Revels (although interfaith and largely based on winter solstice traditions), were first held at Town Hall in New York City starting in 1957.

    Since then, at least ten independent Revels organizations have emerged and are in operation nationwide: Cambridge Revels of Cambridge, MA; Revels North of Hanover, NH; New York Revels of New York, NY; Washington Revels of Washington, D.C.; Revels Houston of Houston, TX; Rocky Mountain Revels of Boulder, CO; Santa Barbara Revels of Santa Barbara, CA; Portland Revels of Portland, OR; Puget Sound Revels of Tacoma, WA; and our own local California Revels of Oakland, CA. Each holds events throughout the year, but the Christmas Revels remains a key part of their programming.

    Members of the San Francisco Bay Times team have been attending Revels events in different cities for decades. Leadership and casts have always included LGBTQ individuals, and sometimes even couples who share a love for these arts organizations. The welcoming atmosphere is mirrored in the California Revels mission statement:

    “California Revels believes people of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, cultures, religions, genders, orientations, incomes, and ages are connected as one global community through rich music, singing, dance, and storytelling. The passing on of these traditions unites us from one generation to the next, as well as within our local and global communities. It is through these traditions that, despite our differences, we can find common ground and mutual understanding.”

    It is little wonder that during Christmas Revels performances, toddlers, great grandparents, and everyone in between finds themselves singing along and often literally dancing in the aisles—which is promoted during a favorite part of each show. Adding to the fun spirit are traditions around the event, such as the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies whose enticing aroma greets audience members as they arrive.

    The sugar high from these warm cookies cannot fully explain the magic of Christmas Revels events. Is it the artistry, the festive music, the beautiful sets, the gratitude that we are still in the land of the living despite winter and pandemics, or the community that forms in the intentional space? The winter solstice may be the reason for the season, but even its wonderment may not fully explain the joy and camaraderie of Revels events if your heart is open to what they have to offer.

    Published on December 2, 2021