We all know what a white Christmas is (every year the radio waves are full of Bing Crosby’s deep croon on the subject), but what about an Irish Christmas? Does it fill your mind with visions of lush, green countryside, stormy skies, and jaunty fiddle music?
On Sunday, December 3rd, you can get a taste of what a true Irish Christmas is like by coming to the Armstrong Theatre and being a part of Irish Christmas in America, a seasonal celebration of Irish holiday traditions shown through music, song, and dance.
Bringing a Bit of the Emerald Isle to America
Oisín Mac Diarmada, renowned Irish fiddler, created the show back in 2005 after spending time touring in America with his band Téada. He’d spent the long, hot summer traveling all over the country before performing with a harp orchestra in a European Christmas show. He found that the Christmas shows had a different feel to them – and he liked touring during the holidays.
As he started his own holiday-themed show, he asked members of his band to play. Over the past 13 years the show has grown to include some famous Irish musicians, like Séamus Begley, a heartfelt vocalist, storyteller, and accordion player, who has toured with the show for the past eight years; and Gráinne Hambly an internationally recognized Irish harpist.
The show has evolved over the years thanks to the amazing Irish talent who come in and out, each bringing their own piece of Ireland to add to the show. But one thing remains the same: touring around the holidays is a delight for performers and audiences alike.
“When you perform in a downtown theater where the town is all Christmasy and the little stores have Christmas lighting and displays, it’s really beautiful. In general, it’s a really lovely time of the year to be touring because we get to enjoy the Christmas atmosphere,” Oisín said.
This year’s newest addition to the cast of talented Irish musicians is singer and flutist Niamh Farrell. Niamh, originally from Sligo, is also the lead singer of the new Irish group Project West and is now based in Vancouver, BC. This young singer became popular when she toured with English singer-songwriter David Gray in 2014, and she’s now the lead singer for the young Irish group Project West.
Other musicians in the show include creator Oisín Mac Diarmada on the fiddle, Séamus Begley on accordion and vocals, Samantha Harvey dancing and on piano, and Sean Gavin on the flute and uilleann pipes.
A Tribute to Traditions
Oisín also grew up in Sligo, which he calls “a really good place” to learn traditional Irish music. He started learning music at a very young age, around five, playing a tin whistle. About a year later he began learning how to play the fiddle, and he’s never looked back.
“In Ireland, music has a purpose. It’s embedded in social life, mostly for dancing. Over the last 60 years that purpose has changed a bit from being mostly social and has come into performance spaces. Irish music is one of those styles of music that can happily coexist in many different places. What it evokes is what makes it successful,” Oisín said.
One of the best things about the show is that it attracts a lot of people who might not normally attend an Irish music show. That gives Oisín and the other other musicians the chance to expose people to Irish traditions who might not have otherwise come out.
Sure, Christmas in Ireland has a lot in common with other holiday traditions in the world – but it also has traditions that make it unique. Like the tradition of the Wren Boys.
The day after Christmas, on the 26th, people get out of their homes and have a lot of fun in their community. They go out together, from house to house, collecting food, money, or drinks, and then they have big party that night. It’s a social day, full of big, social events. People get dressed up in costumes and take pride in it. In fact, Christmas is a long festival in Ireland. Schools shut down, people are off work, usually lasting until after New Years. It’s a time for people to reconnect with friends, family, and community.
And that’s what Irish Christmas in America is all about: using music to connect people to Irish traditions and Irish roots – and mostly, to one another.
“After shows, people from the audience tell us stories about traveling to Ireland. They come up to talk and share stories,” said Oisín. “One of the most heartfelt themes of Irish Christmas is emigration. Music is a way for people to stay close to home.”
Tickets Still Available for Irish Christmas in America
Come be a part of a new holiday tradition, Irish Christmas in America, on Sunday, December 3rd. There will be two shows in the Armstrong Theatre at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Bring the whole family to enjoy lively Irish music played by master musicians on fiddle, flute, uilleann pipes, and harp, and traditional Irish dancing.