December 19, 2014

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” Luke 2:8, 9, 13, 14

Wildlife, great scenery, hiking paths…those are the things most of us imagine when we think of the national parks. But a 17th century Christmas pageant? Hardly!

And yet, for nearly 90 years Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel has held the Bracebridge Dinner, transforming its dining room into an English manor hall for a festival of food, song and ceremony. The Ahwahnee—a National Historic Landmark—is a beautiful building all by itself, with a granite façade, log-beamed ceilings, massive stone hearths, Native American artwork and elegant stained glass, but it’s transformed into an even more stunning venue for the occasion.

The four-hour event, held several times during December, incorporates Renaissance rituals, Middle Ages music, caroling and a sumptuous meal. Over 100 people participate in the show, based on Washington Irving’s early 19th century novel Bracebridge Hall, portraying the Squire of the castle and his family, their servants, minstrels and other performers. This annual holiday tradition has carried on since 1927 (interrupted only by floods and World War II), and evidently is a very popular affair, despite its price: this year’s hotel and dinner packages start at $490.

Sounds like quite a spectacle, doesn’t it? And yet it can’t hold a candle to what it must have been like over 2,000 years ago, when “the heavens exploded with music everywhere, and the angels spilled over heaven’s edge and filled the air,” as the lyrics of one of my favorite Christmas songs describes the announcement of Jesus’ birth.

This display, though, came at high cost to Him, something we usually don’t think about during the Christmas season: “Being in very nature God, [Jesus] made Himself nothing…being made in human likeness…He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Handel’s Messiah, another magnificent composition we often hear this time of year, leads us through God’s plan for human redemption, from the prophecies concerning Jesus’ first coming through His death to the final spectacle, when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever” (Revelations 11:15). The libretto reiterates the Biblical promises that that day will be even more magnificent than His birth: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52).

The Bracebridge Dinner sounds amazing, but I can get by without experiencing (and paying for) that fancy fete. But those other two spectacular events? I wish I’d been there to see the first, and I live for the second!

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