I come to you from an Irish-American perspective. I am several generations removed from those of my family that emigrated to the United States from Ireland and the United Kingdom during the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Yet, the roots to those customs and cultures are still strong and hold a place of honor in my Christmas Traditions. I had a strong indication from an early age that we descended from Irish roots on both sides. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that there was an Irish root that took hold after a time in Glasgow before that branch emigrated again to America.
Although I’ve identified mostly as Irish-American, this newly discovered detail of my genealogical record has allowed me further exploration into the near and distant past.
A rich tapestry of music, poetry, and storytelling has preceded me and found me as a voice in time that recounts the mystery and wonder of simpler times.
There are lots of romantic notions I associate with the stories of my forebears and I long for a day when I can return across the ocean to the places my family called home before America became home.
My father was instrumental with keeping the embers of those hopes alive. Despite many opportunities in my life, I’ve never made it to Ireland or Scotland. The only times I’ve traveled there is in my imagination.
The season of Christmas is a time when I feel the compulsion to go there more keenly. We owned many records, tapes, and CD’s over the years that helped us to learn and enjoy the traditional cannon of Irish fare. The fight songs, the patriotic songs, the rebel songs, were all accounted for in some shape or form; but the Celtic Christmas songs were truly special and held a certain reverence of their own. Steeped largely in the ideas and rites of Roman Catholicism that bound so many of my family for generations in faith, the music has a very ethereal nature and often inspires solemnity and reverence within me when I listen.
Two albums that were fixtures in my home during the years of my development were Paddy Noonan’s “Christmas Time in Ireland” and The Chieftains “The Bells of Dublin”.
These albums were heavily leaning in the traditional sense of what many Irish-Americans consider Irish Music. They held a certain magical realism for me as they added an audio component to an imagination already busy with staging imagery of a place I had never been to.
The music and the stories told by these artists allowed me to imagine what Christmas was like in Ireland. I return to that place every year as soon as I play these albums.I look forward to the day when I can travel to Ireland to find out for myself.
I’ve added some audio below of featured artists telling stories.
The first is from Paddy Noonan’s album. It is of the famed Irish Storyteller Eamon Kelly as he recounts what Christmas Time in Ireland was like in his childhood.
The second is from the Chieftain’s album and it’s the traditional song- “Don Oiche Ud I mBeithil” first spoken in English by Actor Burgess Meredith, and then sang in Irish by Chieftain Kevin Conneff.
Please take some time to give them a listen. You won’t regret it.