Winter Wake-Up

The Winter Solabration seeks to awaken the slumbering Earth with revels.

The sight of adults slowly snaking about while holding antlers on their heads might strike you as a wee bit silly.

But the Abbot's Bromley Horn Dance, as it's officially known, is no Monty Python skit -- even if it also boasts an English pedigree, which dates at least to the early medieval period, and possibly back to pre-Christian tradition.

"It's solemn and mysterious," says Chris Kermiet, one of the organizers of the annual winter-solstice revels now known in Denver as theWinter Solabration, which marks its sixteenth anniversary on December 15.

Celebrate the solstice: Grab your antlers and dance.
Celebrate the solstice: Grab your antlers and dance.

While the horn dance performed by the Maroon Bells Morris Dancers will cap the Solabration festivities around midnight, solemnity is not entirely the order of the evening. There will be plenty of revelry, with activities ranging from puppetry to stomping, caroling, wassailing and other diversions. You just won't be able to use the term "revel" when referring to those activities.

That's because, two years ago, Denver's group of celebrants -- who then put on something known as the Winter Solstice Revels -- was threatened with legal action by a Cambridge, Massachusetts, organization that claimed the Denverites were guilty of trademark infringement. According to the Cambridge folks, they, and they alone, have the right to use the word "revel" in the title of their winter-solstice event.

"It's probably an illegal trademark," says Kermiet, "and if I had ten grand, I would have fought them."

But Kermiet, a professional dance caller, didn't have $10,000 to spend on legal fees. So rather than hang up their deer antlers -- or attempt to gore that proprietary Massachusetts group -- he and his cronies opted to change the name of their frolic. Its purpose, however, remains the same: to "waken" the slumbering Earth with one helluva party.

"We really want people to participate and dance," Kermiet says.

To help them do so, the Solabration will include instruction in various forms of traditional American contra dances, which at times resemble square dances. The Rapper Sword Dancers will offer an exhibition in which, rather than bust rhymes, they'll execute intricate steps using flexible two-handled swords that are replicas of those used centuries ago.

Children are welcome, too, and should find plenty of Harry Potter-like wizardry to keep them amused. Scheduled early in the evening are the Cloud of Dust Puppet Theater, storyteller Susan Marie Frontczak and a mummer's play. The latter tells tales of dying and rebirth based on Celtic pre-history, all using rhyming couplets: "In come I, Old Father Christmas/ Welcome in or welcome not/I hope Old Father Christmas/ Will never be forgot."

But the horn dance is certain to be the highlight -- just as it will be at celebrations around the world.

In the rural English Midlands hamlet where it originated, the Abbot's Bromley Horn Dance still unfolds with great fanfare. A troupe made up of six Deer-men (since the '50s, Deer-women have been allowed), a Fool, a Hobby Horse, Maid Marian (actually a man dressed as a woman), a Bowman and a musician playing a recorder weave their way through the town in a serpentine procession. The Maroon Bells Morris Dancers plan to follow the same format in Denver, antlers and all.

"Nobody sees it as odd," Kermiet says. "There's a power to it."

It may well be potent enough to wake the Earth. But whether the Solabration will be strong enough to rouse the Broncos is another matter.

 
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