Metro Weekly

The Christmas Revels celebrate reunion, renewal, and tradition

This year's Christmas Revels is set in 1870 at the first Black Senator's postbellum holiday party.

Washington Revels -- Photo: Sheppard Ferguson
Washington Revels — Photo: Sheppard Ferguson

A D.C. holiday tradition is returning with a homegrown show highlighting the joy of reunion. This year, the Washington Revels’ flagship production, The Christmas Revels, is set in December 1870, in the parlor of Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American to serve in Congress.

Revels and his wife, Phoebe, are hosting a Christmas party and have invited guests from all walks of life, from near and far, to remember those lost during the Civil War and to celebrate reconnection and renewal.

“We tend to put our ancestors on pedestals, but they were people just like us,” says Andrea Jones Blackford, associate artistic director of the Washington Revels, a community-based performing arts organization. “Even though they’re historical figures, they too had families, wants, wishes, needs and desires to be with loved ones during a difficult time.”

Blackford also directs the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices, which preserves African American history and traditions through a cappella music, drama and dance. The ensemble will be featured in the Christmas Revels, as will the multigenerational Washington Revels Chorus and the eclectic Washington Revels Brass, along with a “parlor band” of local folk musicians.

“There are people I haven’t seen in two years, much less sung with,” Blackford says. “To hear the harmonies we can create — not digitally, but in person, together — feeds us as much as it does the audience.”

She adds: “We use performance, education and community engagement to celebrate the things that make us different, the cultural gifts we bring to the table, and the life-affirming links that bind us together.”

For a safer and smaller space, and for the first time in 40 years, the Christmas Revels is being staged at the historic Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park. But COVID-19’s limitations on the Christmas Revels’ scope have “created fertile ground for a great show,” Blackford says.

“We want to create an environment where folks can shake off the troubles of the world and join us in celebrating the coming of a new year, where hopefully more people can bask in the warmth of being together.”

The Christmas Revels: In Celebration of the Winter Solstice will be performed in person this weekend and next, at the Spanish Ballroom, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Md. Attendees are required to wear face masks and show proof of full vaccination or a negative test result taken within 72 hours of their chosen performance. The production will also be available online, on-demand, from Dec. 21 to Jan. 6. Tickets are $20 to $55. Call 301-587-3835 or visit www.revelsdc.org.

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