Updated: Apr 5, 2019
By Matt Larson
This performance company takes an innovative approach with their holiday entertainment.
Over the years many of us here in the East Bay have made a holiday tradition out of attending Christmas Revels, an all-inclusive holiday show produced and performed by the California Revels. Their show changes every year, but their mission of strengthening their community and enlightening society through the spirit of togetherness remains the same.
“I think it’s important to offer audiences a chance to participate in events that give them a sense of history and inclusion,” said Artistic Director David Parr. “It is a powerful remedy to a cynical world that tries so hard to isolate and wall us off from each other.”
Every mid-winter the Revels provide us with a grand celebration of traditions and cultures from around the world, with joyful singing, dancing and storytelling for an uplifting turn of the year. “It gives you hope in the darkest part of the year, but not in a religious way,” said Ellin Barret who is a member of the California Revels Advisory Council. “We have people of all faiths that come, people of all cultures, people who don’t speak English at all but still enjoy the show.”
Last year’s Christmas Revels celebrated the Scottish culture with their production of A Scottish Celebration of the Solstice. This year, the 33rd Annual Christmas Revels is called Ancient Mysteries of Andalusia. The story begins in the year 1600 in Andalusia, Spain, when three individuals from three different cultures—a Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian—all happen to meet. Together they hope to find their way back through time to the era of La Convivencia, a time in which they believe that all cultures were able to live harmoniously in a spirit of tolerance and peace.
Aside from the winter solstice, California Revels also provide a summer solstice celebration, and other cultural events throughout the year. “I think it’s very important for people to stay connected to the seasonal changes of the planet,” Barret said. Experiencing the changing of the seasons is something that all cultures have in common, and since celebrating together as a community is such a pillar for what the Revels stand for, special focus on the seasons is often a common thread in their productions.
But it’s not all about going to shows to be moved and entertained, however, as the California Revels also provide for some pretty amazing theatrical experiences for children and adults alike. For a child, compared to your average children’s theater experience, the Revels Chorus has them on stage with performers of all different ages, even up to their 90s! It’s a great experience for any child. “I started bringing my daughter when she was 3, and this will be the first year I bring my granddaughter,” Barret said. “I’ve really enjoyed seeing different families grow up celebrating together.”
California Revels is actually part of a reveling network consisting of nine active Revels companies nationwide. The first production of The Christmas Revels was in 1971, and the first Revels group was founded in 1975 in Hanover, New Hampshire, known today as Revels North. The California Revels have been with us here in the Bay Area since 1986.
This year’s Christmas Revels will be held Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from December 8th-16th at the Scottish Rite Theater in Oakland. They do have several other yearly events that can be found at their website, californiarevels.org, or you can call them at (510) 452-9334. Tickets for this year’s winter event go on sale in September. If you’ve never been and would like to take your family to something a little different this holiday season, The Christmas Revels would be an excellent choice.
“We are not the same story every year like the Nutcracker, we share different stories,” Barret said. “Singing, dancing and storytelling are traditions that go back very far, that continue to have value as something you do live, with other people—not something you watch on a screen,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to show.”