Hi, Jessi here! I’m the summer intern at the Cambridge History Room. As an archives student at Simmons College’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, I was able to spend my summer working with the papers of John Langstaff, creator of the Cambridge Revels, at the Cambridge History Room.
If you have ever seen the Christmas Revels you are already one step ahead of where I was when I started two months ago. I had never heard of Morris Dancing and being from Philadelphia originally, my idea of a Mummer’s Play was a bunch of men in neon colored suits with feathers.
But the Mummer’s plays, folks songs and Morris dancing that John Langstaff often showcased in his Revel’s programs has a long tradition in English folk society as a celebration of the Winter Solstice. Mummer’s Play are a tradition where costumed people used to go from door to door and perform sort of like carolers. St. George and the Dragon is a popular Mummer’s play and one that Langstaff used a lot, even turning it into a children’s book.
Morris Dancing is another tradition that is showcased in the Revels. Just last week groups of Morris Dancers from across the states and even some groups from England performed in the Boston Common before the Shakespeare on the Common.
John Langstaff took many of these traditions and fashioned them into annual performances for first the Cambridge area, and then around the United States as associate Revels organizations began everywhere from New York to San Francisco. The Revels in Cambridge perform their annual Christmas Revels as well as Spring Revels, a Sea Revels on the Boston Harbor and many other performances.
Langstaff also was an educator, a host of a BBC children’s show on music and an author including the gorgeous, Frog Went A-Courtin’, that won the Caldecott Medal in 1956. The Cambridge Public Library currently is hosting an exhibit of items from John Langstaff’s collection. Come and see memorabilia from the earliest Revels, learn what famous actor once played the Dragon in a show and see how a children’s picture book, such as Langstaff’s, Hot Cross Buns.