This year's annual performance of The Shepherds'Play, an hour-long musical that manages to combine religious observance, the traditional story of Christ's birth and slapstick, is 7 p.m. Dec. 18 at Poplar Ridge Friends Meetinghouse.
The play is a 32-year-old local tradition rooted centuries ago with music, humor and message that speaks to all ages.
The meetinghouse is on Poplar Ridge Road just east of State Route 34B in the hamlet of Poplar Ridge. Admission is free.
"It's spiritual and earthy in equal doses," Ethan MacCormick of Aurora said. His family has been part of the play, as stagehands or cast members, since it premiered here in 1978.
MacCormick this year plays one of the play's three shepherds. As a high school student he helped his mother Lili MacCormick make costumes and beards still used in this season's play.
"It's what brings Christmas all together for me."
The original Shepherds' Play, set in Bethlehem, was the favorite of several medieval "mystery plays" that emerged some 600 years ago from a German community that had immigrated to Oberufer, a small island on the Danube River near Austria and Hungary.
Certain Oberufer families performed the same parts for generations. Several Aurora-area participants have been in the play for decades. The 12-member troupe, calling itself the Poplar Ridge Players, does only this one show every year.
Walter and the late Joan Moora organized the first performances here. Before moving to the Aurora area, Joan Moora had been a teacher at a school that produced an annual play, so she introduced it here. Walter now lives in Wisconsin.
The producer-director this year is Andreas Richter, of Genoa, a veterinarian.
Lili MacCormick (pronounced "lee-lee") played an angel in the first performance. Her two daughters Marian and Kathryn, two sons Ethan and Christopher, and late husband Chalmers have had jobs and roles from the beginning.