“Come to the great hall, where the Yule log sparkles bright!” is the jester’s call to commence the Christmas Pageant. Ninety years ago today the first Cranbrook School Christmas Pageant was held on Friday, December 20, 1929. Seeing a need for symbolism and tradition, Dr. Vernon B. Kellett, a Cranbrook School teacher of German, Latin, and Music (1929-1943), initiated the pageant to recreate an old English Christmas banquet as it is thought to have been celebrated in the baronial castles of the middle ages.
For nine decades, students, faculty, and select guests have gathered in the Commons at six o’clock in the evening during the last week of term before the Holiday recess, awaiting the Court Jester’s greeting and invitation to proceed to the Great Hall. On the occasion of the first Christmas Pageant, the great dining hall was reported to have been illuminated by thousands of candles at tables and in windows, where the candle flames gently flickered against the frosted panes, creating a warm ambience of bygone times. Mrs. Stevens, the Headmaster’s wife, was a contributor to the candlelit backdrop. Mrs. Kellett, Miss Walker and other faculty ladies wore commendable costumes, which were based on those of the fifteenth century.
Throughout the years, the pageant has kept tradition and followed the same program of readings, carols, and processions. To begin, all remain standing to sing an old Latin hymn, “Adeste Fideles,” followed by readings by the Chaplain. As the Chaplain reads the Christmas story from St. Luke, shepherds proceed through the dining hall to a manger scene. Old French and English carols are sung before the Chaplain reads the story of the Magi from St. Matthew. During the reading, three Wise Men appear, and more carols are sung. After the Chaplain reads “The Collect,” the glee club sings “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,” and then dinner is served. The jester reappears and entertains for the evening.
Following dinner are three processions with carols for each– that of the Boar’s head, the Plum puddings, and the Yule log. Then enter the Mummers who perform the “Mummer’s Play.” In the middle ages, Mummers were amateur actors who attended feasts to perform plays. At the first Christmas Pageant, the mummers performed a dramatization of St. George and the Dragon, which was a popular story in medieval England and continues to be celebrated there on April 23rd, St. George’s Day. To bring the evening to a close, the headmaster gives his Christmas greeting and everyone sings the school hymn. Dr. Kellett, the founder of the pageant, also wrote the words to the school hymn and established the first Glee Club and soccer team for Cranbrook School.
The first Christmas Pageant was reportedly a resounding success and all who had participated agreed that an inspirational and beautiful tradition had been established for future years. Indeed, it has continued an unbroken annual tradition for ninety years.
–Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist