Arts / Community / Lifestyle

Revels: The History of a Tradition

As we near winter vacation, with it comes a long held tradition at Dana Hall: Revels. Beginning in 1921, Crostance Grosvenor Alexander, an English teacher at Dana from 1909-1944, wrote the original script, titled Saint Francis Keeps Christmas at Greccio 1223. Although the original title is very different, much of the script remains the same.

However, the location of the play, the names of characters, the winter solstice themes, and the addition of the mummer’s play, show where the modern version differs most from the original. The original Revels feast was held in front of the fire place in the now-gone Dana Main Building, and the performance took place in the old gymnasium. In 1929, the feast included dinner and desserts much different than today, such as, squash, kumquats, and an enormous fish swimming in a sea of chopped jelly. Foods like plum pudding and roast beef were traditional until 1984, but in 2010 the banquet was replaced with simply tradition cake and sparkling cider.

In the 1921 play, characters such as the Princesses, the Queen, are the old Woman Rabbler were not present. Instead, male characters dominated the stage. The King, Seneschal, and the “Lord” of Misrule held the most lines in the play. The addition of the Princesses and the Queen were made years later. It was not until 2013, that all the “Lord” characters were changed to be “Lady.”

The biggest notable change was the switch from a centrally Christian-themed play, to the modern day celebration of the winter solstice, or Yuletide. Ms. Alexander’s original script features characters such as St. Francis, angels, monks, and even Jesus in the manger. The script was cut in half in order to remove the religious sections.

The space that originally held the pilgrimage to see baby Jesus being born, is now taken up by the Mummer’s play. From viewing photographs we know that the Mummer’s play became part of the script as early as 1929, including the slain dragon and squires! The dragon costume sure has changed a lot since then.

How do we know all of this? Mr. Goodson’s Making History class of course! If you want to know more about Revels or about Dana Hall history, sign up to take Making History next year. We look forward to seeing the class of 2019 put their own twist on the Revels tradition. Be there or be “Squire!”