CAMBRIDGE — Everyman is going about his everyday life when a woman in white appears to tell him that his days are numbered and he must journey to the end of the earth in time for the shortest day of the year. That’s the simple but effective setup for this year’s “Christmas Revels,” which takes place in Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain. From a secular perspective, our hero is following the setting sun as he travels westward to the end of the earth as pre-Columbian Europe knew it. But he’s also treading the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, the pilgrim path to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the Galician church where tradition says the Apostle James is buried.
Galicia is such a natural for “The Christmas Revels,” it’s a wonder Revels hasn’t ventured there before. The region, which borders on Portugal, has its own distinct language (related to Portuguese) and culture; its signature musical instruments include the gaita galega, or Galician bagpipe, which may have descended from the Celtic people who once lived in the area. The pilgrims, of course, bring their own culture and music with them, so the program for this “Revels” could include almost anything. In fact, it’s mostly Galician. Jeremy Barnett’s appropriately uncluttered set has a huge scallop shell — emblem of St. James —and a campanario as its focal points.
At first, Jay O’Callahan’s Everyman seems to find himself in the 15th-century morality play of the same name, for he’s told to bring a ledger and give an account of his life. Fellowship (Billy Meleady) refuses to accompany him; so do his kith and kin. Yet along the way, he’s knighted and given a helmet and breastplate. His new name is Don Año Nuevo — Sir New Year — but if you think he looks like Don Quixote, your suspicions will be confirmed after he acquires a squire named Sancho (Meleady again) and dedicates himself to the “purity” of his Dulcinea, an innkeeper named Angélica (Angélica Aragón) who appears to have been around the block a few times.
Joined by other pilgrims, the trio journey from Dulcinea’s inn to a monastery, then Santiago de Compostela, and finally the end of the earth. Everyman tells stories (after one, the musicians strike up “The Impossible Dream”); Salomé Sandoval accompanies her clarion soprano on Baroque guitar. There are processional alboradas and lively villancicos navideños, or Christmas carols, in both Spanish and Galician. The Niños del Camino ask for pesetas on Three Kings’ Day. In “Nadal de Luintra,” the pilgrims reenact, with the help of Sara Peattie’s majestic puppets, the ritual story of Joseph and Mary being turned away from the inn. Everyman reenacts another ritual, that of banging his head against a sculpture of the cathedral’s architect, San Matteo, while the Coro de Compostela gives a wrenching rendition of Francisco Guerrero’s motet “Niño Dios d’amor herido.”
It all climaxes in the traditional mummers’ play. Back in the evening’s overture, the Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble had hinted at the “Habanera” from “Carmen,” so it’s not surprising when more tunes from Bizet’s opera come into play as Everyman, now a matador, faces off against the Turkey Knight (Martin Tulloch), a dragon with a handlebar mustache and a sombrero (Jake Nunes), and the dreaded Mirror Knight (Simon Horsburgh).
All the traditional favorites are here: David Coffin leading “The Lord of the Dance,” the spooky Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, the audience sing-along to “Dona Nobis Pacem,” Susan Cooper’s poem “The Shortest Day,” and “The Sussex Mummers’ Carol.” This is the 43d “Christmas Revels,” and it’s hard to remember one funnier or more moving. Europeans call the Camino de Santiago “the Milky Way.” This “Revels” walks among the stars.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.