“As Winter dies, so must I die
And rise to Spring again!”
- St. George and the Dragon Mummer’s Play
Yesterday was the Winter Solstice. At dinner with the grandkids and family, we had a most interesting conversation about what creates the seasons. Try explaining it to your friends or family— not as easy as you think! After several false starts— and without looking anything up— we remembered the important fact of the Earth’s tilt and with the help of an orange and lime, finally got it down.
From the scientific, we moved to the mythological and I explained to the kids about the way they ancients participated in the nature’s cycles by petitioning the gods through ritual to ensure the return of the light. Which led to the St. George and the Dragon English mummer’s play that I first encountered with John Langstaff and the Christmas Revels in 1986. That same year, I brought that play to my school and there it lived on for the next 35 years and thanks to my colleague James Harding, continues on in my absence. The characters and lines stay the same, but naturally the kids who play them change and as I always told them, their job is to make their particular performance memorable. And many did— the one who used an accent the year the movie Boratcame out, the one who whispered one of the lines as an aside that became the standard way, the one who told the Dragon “Look, it’s Superman!” and then killed him with his sword as the Dragon looked away. It’s a funny and wacky and profound play that include a mystical sword dance that kills St. George (the dying of the light), has a doctor try to resurrect him (the choicest part) until the Fool casts him aside and brings St. George back to life (the return of the Light).
We associate creativity with the constant creation of something new, but there is much to be said for revisiting the same script and form and investing our imagination in the small changes of details that keep it alive and growing .While giving kids something to count on and look forward to in the year’s calendar. The 8th graders traditionally perform the play for the 1st through 7th graders and afterwards, we sometimes ask the audience to share with each other which part they’d like to play. It’s the kind of continuity that brings pleasure and excitement to community, always something to look forward to it.
So last night, we had a reading of the play around the dinner table. 6-year old Malik as St. George, son-in-law Ronnie as the Giant, daughter Talia as the Doctor, the role she wished for when she was in 8th grade at the school and didn’t get (never too late to heal old wounds). Last year at this retreat, I brought the school swords and we did the dance, but Talia forgot to bring them this year. Perhaps I’ll go into Palm Springs and get some—thin yardsticks work okay.
Meanwhile, today marks the beginning of the return of the Light. May the cultural match the physical!