The Christmas Revels: A Scottish Celebration of the Solstice
High times in the Highlands
Take a mystic trip to the land of heather and moors and enjoy a sparkling family entertainment by traveling no further than the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland for the 32nd annual rendition of The Christmas Revels. Each year The Revels celebrates the holiday traditions of a different culture, and 2017 honors the customs of poet Robert Burns’ 18th century Scotland.
The Scottish celebrations welcome the winter solstice as the transition of pushing back darkness and heralding the light. They rejoice with spirited Scottish songs, swordplay, dances, poems, and folk tales. Skirling bagpipes and swirling plaid kilts highlight many unfamiliar cultural traditions. Attend the festivities and learn about Hogmanay, first-footing, wool-waulking, and more. Your guide will be the poet himself, played with great flair and spoken with melodious brogue by the very un-Scottish-named Julian Lopez Morillas.
Be amused and enlightened by interesting information. For example, did you know that as a result of the Protestant Reformation, a 1640 act of the Scottish parliament prohibited celebration of Christmas, which was considered an affront to orthodox Christianity? Happily, the sanction did not apply to major seasonal overindulgence in Scotch whiskey, haggis, and shortbread! The law remained in effect until 1958, which explains why the Scottish holiday tradition focuses on the solstice.
The founder of Christmas Revels, John Langstaff established a tradition of bringing together entertainers of all ages to delight and educate. This singer, author, and music educator created a participatory shindig that has fans attending and engaging in holiday merriment. At times the audience heartily joins in singing, having been given song lyrics in the evening’s program. The sing-alongs include the folk song “Wild Mountain Thyme,” the Latin hymn of peace “Dona Nobis Pacem,” and how could it not embrace Burns’ universal New Year’s anthem “Auld Lange Syne?” Leading to intermission, patrons join in dancing to “Lord of the Dance,” snaking around the stage and through the aisles of the house.
In total, over 30 separate pieces are executed by 60-plus performers. Be captivated by an ancient Hebridean “Duan Nollaig” chant in which males of the village encircle a home and light the new Yule log to drive away the darkness on the shortest day of the year. Hear a stunning Scottish medley of fiddle duets. See masked young women in gowns dance “The Devil’s Maze.” A distinctive highlight is the “Sword Dance” in which dancers create a circle by holding the hilt of their own sword in one hand and the point of their neighbor’s sword in the other. Precise and complex movements reminiscent of pagan ritual often tell a story through skill and teamwork of the sword bearers. Despite complex maneuvers, the continuum of hands to swords is never broken, except to form the interleafed star from the swords in the photo.
The performance is given in the beautiful round neoclassical theater at the Center on a thrust stage to bring the action closer to the audience. The set reflects the character of a Scottish castle, and variable lighting creates dramatic effects. The cast is predominately amateur and includes perhaps a dozen teens and the same number of pre-teens. Although the performances are not professional, some are very polished and the arrangements and choreography are very thoughtful. This is an evening full of charm and goodwill and is a pleasure to observe.
The Christmas Revels: A Scottish Celebration of the Solstice is produced by California Revels and plays at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Dr., Oakland, CA through December 17, 2017.