As the days grow darker across the Northern Hemisphere, people look for ways to brighten the season.
For the past 30 years, the Washington-based Christmas Revels
has offered festive holiday performances for all ages. For the performers and many audience members, the event has become an important part of their holiday tradition.
This year, the Christmas Revels is back on stage in the nation’s capital celebrating the arrival of the Winter Solstice.
Since 1983, the Washington-based company has celebrated the seasons and cycles of human life through song, dance and stories from traditional cultures. The productions bring a volunteer chorus of children and adults together with professional actors and musicians. The audience is often invited to participate.
"Saint George" in The Christmas Revels. (Sheppard Ferguson)
There is the ever-popular performance by the Cutting Edge sword dancers, the ancient ritual horn dance, a short play about a magic dragon and the beloved children’s choir.
Greg Lewis has been with The Christmas Revels since it began. The song leader says this annual event is known for bringing people together, both on and off the stage.
“So it’s music, dance and drama but that central feeling of The Christmas Revels, it’s called The Christmas Revels but it’s really the Winter Solstice Revels, it’s really this celebration of light over dark,” Lewis says. “Revels brings the audience in and it does this with singing. It does it even with dancing; 500 people get up and link arms and go out into the lobby and into the street if it’s warm. So the audience is very much part of the family and the community.”
And family is very much part of the performance.
Pete Behr, who plays a common man in the show, has been involved with the revels for 17 years. Three of his grandchildren are part of the cast this year.
In a performance called Boar's Head Carol, he sings alongside his two grandsons.
“To me it’s a thrill beyond words to see these terrific young people become such wonderful performers,” he says.
Mark Jaster as the fool in Washington Revels' boisterous celebration of the Winter Solstice. (Sheppard Ferguson)
One grandson, Peter Noone, 22, who also plays a commoner on stage, has known the revels since he was five years old.
“Revels is something I can’t imagine not being part of," Noone says, "either watching it or being in it. It’s been there my entire life.”
Jason, 17, has been in seven shows. “With revels the audience is part of the show. On stage we’re the family, but they’re the friends.”
Their sister Katey also grew up with the revels and says she couldn't imagine her life without it.
“Whether I’m watching it, or backstage or on stage, I can really feel the community and I just feel loved,” she says. “I have my stage family, and then I have my real family and then I have my family watching.”
That spirit is what brings people like Dan Ramos and his family, back, year after year.
“In D.C. where there’s so much other things going on, to come to a place where everyone spends two hours laughing and singing and dancing is kind of unexpected,” Ramos says. “To be able to spend three hours with your family enjoying each other’s company and have it as an annual tradition, it’s really hard to beat.”
His son Joseph, 11, agrees.
“We spend a lot of time together but this is definitely one of the bigger occasions when we spend the most time we look forward to all year,” Joseph says.
His nine-year-old sister, Maggie, explains why she likes the event. “I feel happy coming to the revels because I like seeing everyone on stage and everyone laughing and singing along.”
As it approaches its 30th anniversary, The Christmas Revels plans to continue bringing people from all walks of life together into a community that transcends boundaries.