In this year’s Christmas Revels, we’ll be singing “Bogoroditse Deva.” Say, what? Ain’t that Russian? It sure is. And we’ll also be singing in Bulgarian, Czech, Georgian, Serbian, Croatian, Romanian, Polish, Latin, and, oh yes, English. It will be beautiful, like no Revels yet and maybe the best.
The Christmas Revels began in a kind of English solstice variety hour spirit, a professionally staged performance of time-honored winter solstice and Christmas songs, stories, dances, and laughs. It was pretty much in the best English medieval tradition. And we might have continued with that each year. But we didn’t. As appealing as all that medieval stuff was (and we’ve gone back to it from time to time over the past 19 years), what appealed even more was to find the seasonal song, dance, and theater from many different cultures.
Why? Because the deep, human hope for and confidence in the renewal of life at the turning of the year has mattered to many different kinds of people. And many different cultures have sung about it, composed about it, danced about it, laughed about it. And in all those places, they’ve made the light come back.
This is the 19th year, then, since that never-to-be-forgotten Christmas Revels opening at Lincoln Hall Theater on December 8, 1995, and since then, English, French, Scottish, Spanish, Irish, Scandinavian, and Italian Revels have delighted Portland audiences. There were 1,500 who came to that first year’s performances; now, more than 6,500 attend. And I can’t help thinking that part of the reason is that we keep finding new cultural ways to welcome back the light.