John Langstaff founded the Revels (now performed at Christmas in nine cities across the United States, and in the spring and summer in many locations) with the first "Christmas Revels" stage performance taking place at The Town Hall in New York City in 1957. He and his daughter Carol started producing "The Christmas Revels" again in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1971, at Harvard University's famed Sanders Theater, where it has played to sold-out houses ever since. Revels troupes are active across the United States, with four in the northeast region of the U.S. Revels performances include costumes, singing, dancing, recitals, theatrics (usually as brief skits, often humorous), and usually some audience participation, all appropriate to the season. Performers are usually local, often non-professional, and frequently young. This echoes English theatrical precedents of the 16th century and earlier. Professional singers, actors and musicians are mixed with talented amateurs and tradition-bearers, often brought in to share a culture's music, dance or ritual in an authentic manner. Reviewers have especially mentioned the dance and the upbeat nature of the performance.
Each year's Christmas Revels draws upon a different era or culture's Christmas and winter solstice traditions. The 2007 Christmas Revels, in Cambridge, were based on music, songs, and dance, from the Balkans. The earliest performances drew from medieval English traditions, one of which, the Mummers' Play is retained (albeit sometimes altered) no matter what time period or culture is being featured. Other traditions include ending every first half of the production with Sydney Carter's "Lord of the Dance" hymn.
The annual event has been moved to many other American cities, and there exist songbooks, production guides, and commercial recordings to assist those unfamiliar with ancient folk music and dancing. The recordings often include noted performers in the folk tradition that is being featured, such as appalachian dulcimer player Jean Ritchie, who appeared on the Appalachian Revels album.
Until his death, Langstaff, assisted by members of his family, led or assisted several of the Revels organizations in various cities.
There are now ten independent Revels organizations across the country.
Revels North: Hanover, New Hampshire
Cambridge Revels: Cambridge, Massachusetts
New York Revels: New York, New York
Washington Revels: Washington, DC
Revels Houston: Houston, Texas
Rocky Mountain Revels: Boulder, Colorado
Santa Barbara Revels: Santa Barbara, California
California Revels: Oakland, California
Portland Revels: Portland, Oregon
Puget Sound Revels: Tacoma, Washington