Solstice Service & Mummers

Whole Congregation worship.

A big part of recent Solstice services has been traditional sword dancing and mummers plays (Mummers Wiki) written and directed by our own Marc Vilain with production help from Helen Hill. This year the children will once again take over our sanctuary to bring you an updated play, as zany and full of antics and dancing as any that have gone before.

The Harvard UU Mummers plays come to us from an age-old British tradition. Roving bands of mummers would perform in the street or in pubs at the holidays, often passing the hat, or in our case, the offering plate.

These plays are quintessential street theater: broad, humorous, irreverent, and sometimes immensely poignant. They often feature characters of lesser means poking fun at authority, and the topsy-turvy of that dynamic is why we ask our children to be our mummers. This is a day where they are in charge, not the adults of the church.

Mummers plays often feature a death and resurrection. One interpretation aligns this rebirth with the turning of the year, and in particular with the solstice — as the old year dies, and the new year comes to life. In many traditional mummers plays, the deceased character is brought back to life by a quack doctor. Doctor Aflack, as we call him, never misses Harvard UU’s mummers plays, but to us he really is utterly ineffective as a doctor, and we usually align the return to life with another common element of these plays, the Dragon.

Dragons appear in many British mummers plays, usually as the foil to Saint George. Our Dragon has way broader aspirations. Harvard’s Dragon is the annual source of some topical conflict, one year stealing all the books from the new library (the kids were too loud); or repossessing all the homes in Harvard during the financial crisis; or shutting down the Glean Team through copyright infringement laws (the case of Dragon Vs. Squash Soup Recipe); and so forth.

It is ultimately up to the communitarian spirit of the town to resolve this dragonly conflict. And it is through this resolution that the deceased character returns to life. At least, that’s how it goes in our mummers plays. They are a living folk tradition, and ours is just one tendril on a theatrical vine whose roots stretch across the continents and the centuries.

So: Can the President have his climate-controlled golf courses? He wants to know and Dragon’s newest invention may be just what he needs … Come armed with sunglasses and umbrellas to maximize your enjoyment on Sunday morning when all will be revealed.

Marc and Helen

Mummers Play 2017