Founder of the Christmas Revels, John Langstaff John Langstaff, the founder of the Christmas Revels, died Tuesday in Basil, Switzerland, after suffering a stroke. He was 84. The Christmas Revels is a show that explores the roots of the Christmas and winter solstice celebrations from a different era or country each year.
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Founder of the Christmas Revels, John Langstaff

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Founder of the Christmas Revels, John Langstaff

Founder of the Christmas Revels, John Langstaff

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

John Langstaff has died. Best known as the founder of the holiday celebration called "The Christmas Revels," Langstaff died on Tuesday. He suffered a stroke while visiting his daughter and grandchildren in Switzerland. John Langstaff would have turned 85 on Christmas Eve. NPR's Lynn Neary has this remembrance.

LYNN NEARY reporting:

John Langstaff's birth on Christmas Eve 1920 was no accident. At least that's how the story goes. Patrick Swanson, the current artistic director of "The Revels," says Langstaff's mother was determined to have a Christmas baby.

Mr. PATRICK SWANSON (Artistic Director, "The Christmas Revels"): By all accounts, his mother raced up and down the stairs on Christmas Eve, trying to induce Jack into the world.

NEARY: Swanson says while growing up, Langstaff's home was filled with music, especially at Christmastime. His parents hosted parties where singers from the Metropolitan Opera would mix with family friends and carolers roamed his Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. It was these celebrations, says Swanson, that eventually inspired Langstaff to create "The Christmas Revels."

Mr. SWANSON: I think he never forgot that image, that surrounding circle of faces at that special time of the year singing this extraordinary music and making music together.

(Soundbite of carol)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in unison) Here were come a-wassailing among the leaves so green. And here we come a-wassailing, so fair to be seen.

NEARY: Langstaff presented his first production of "The Christmas Revels" at New York's Town Hall in 1957. Using traditional medieval music and dance, "The Revels" celebrated both Christmas and the solstice. In 1971, it became an annual event at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eventually it branched out around the country; about a dozen cities now have their own revels, and there are spring and summer revels as well. But in a 1987 NPR interview, Langstaff said "The Christmas Revels" were always special.

(Soundbite of 1987 interview)

Mr. JOHN LANGSTAFF (Founder, "The Christmas Revels"): The year is darkest and coldest, in our area, anyway, and people draw in and draw together, I think, and want to come together. And it's a time we want to bring back the light. It's the sort of dying off of the old year, maybe, the coming back of light and the burning of the Yule log and people singing and dancing and so on.

NEARY: Audience participation is an integral part of "The Revels," and the productions combine the talents of skilled professionals with dedicated amateurs. Langstaff, who was both a teacher and a children's book author, gave children an important role in "The Revels." Patrick Swanson.

Mr. SWANSON: He was really totally intuitive about children. He always saw the best in people, and he could bring that out in a completely unsophisticated way.

(Soundbite of carol)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in unison) Now take hands and join with us on this joyful holiday.

NEARY: Swanson says John Langstaff left behind a rich legacy that combines finding the best in people with making music and creating traditions. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of carol)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in a round) Now take hands and join with us on this joyful holiday.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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