It’s an event steeped in tradition that dates back three decades.
That’s what Caravan Farm Theatre offers with their winter sleigh ride performance of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi by Maristella Roca, which runs until Dec. 31.
And after seeing what Caravan does with the show, it’s easy to see why it has become so entrenched in family holiday routine.
The cool scent of pine wafts over the crowd that huddles by the fire for warmth as horse-drawn sleighs slide into view. Tendrils of steam lick the air as they emanate from hot mulled wine and hot chocolate with Irish Cream Liqueur, or without booze for the kids, at a wooden booth constructed adjacent the grand food hall where families with young children gather to escape the elements. A metallic ring clangs from a bell affixed to the hot chocolate hut and the horses are in place.
“They are a real jewel to have,” says Armstrong Mayor Chris Pieper as he stands atop the back of a sleigh with Caravan Farm Theatre artistic director Estelle Shook. “We don’t know how lucky we are to have this in the North Okanagan.”
Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo echoes Pieper’s sentiment as he too addresses the crowd.
“It’s such a magnificent place,” Kyllo says. “It’s been a family tradition for my family for three years.”
Kyllo isn’t alone. As families crawl onto the back of the red sleighs and sit on the soft straw bales that act as sofas, chatter about past shows arises. They have all been to a Caravan Farm Theatre winter sleigh ride, and by the way they talk, they don’t plan on quelling the tradition any time soon.
Horses standing side-by-side, two per sleigh — except for one sleigh pulled by three smaller bred horses — nicker as the sleigh creaks and slides to the back 40 of Caravan Farm Theatre, and with it, they leave behind the rustic farm setting and transport the audience to O. Henry and Roca’s pre-First World War New York City.
Enter Della — the young, sweet and pretty female lead put to purpose by Caravan Farm Theatre alumnus Tracey Power. Della counts and recounts her coins as 10 sleighs park in the snow-peppered field.
“One dollar and eighty-seven cents,” Della sobs in her thick New York City accent as she finished counting pennies. How will she ever be able to purchase a gift for her beloved — if intentionally goofy — Jim, embodied by yet another alumnus Billy Marchenski.
Narrating it all and gluing together the pieces is Randi Helmers. As the couple peruses wares on Coney Island, Helmers transforms from hair comb saleswoman to impromptu hairdresser and hair procurer, and again from honest jewellery salesman to riffraff jewellery salesman. And Helmers does it all with her signature dash of comedy, demonstrated when she took the stage as Hellhound and Helen Back in Caravan Farm Theatre’s 2017 summer show, The Ballad of Weedy Peetstraw.
While Della and Jim have little in the way of money, each possesses something of value, both sentimentally and monetarily. For him, his prized possession is a watch passed down from generation to generation, and for her, it’s her long, beautiful locks.
Deeply in love and wanting nothing more than to provide their partner with a Christmas gift, they both opt to sell their most valuable possessions. But tragedy ensues when the gifts acquired directly correlate with the other’s object that was sold. “They could choose to freak out, but they choose not to, instead choosing to see what they are, which are great gifts of love,” Shook said. “It’s a very beautiful story, and it’s a super timely message.”
As the figurative curtains close and the sleighs dredge through the light layer of snow and people join together in Christmas carols, it becomes clear. It’s a performance intended for all ages but it isn’t about Santa Claus or talking elves, it’s a story of unabashed love. It’s a true Christmas story, an honest Christmas story, delivered at a time of marketing, sales and materialism. Della and Jim embody what Christmas should be.
As the families exit the horse-drawn sleighs far removed from high definition computer screens, it’s clear that Caravan Farm Theatre follows Della and Jim’s lead.
And with that idealism in mind, they cultivated an event specifically for that purpose — one that has lived on through families for generations.
Caravan Farm Theatre presents The Gift of the Magi until Dec. 31. Tickets are sold out. For performance times and to be placed on a waitlist, contact the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.