New songs, dances and stories fill this season's production of "A Celtic Christmas," presented by storyteller Tomaseen Foley and his company of Irish musicians, singers and dancers.
"There are several new songs," Foley says. " 'The Darkest Midnight in December' is a beautiful, old, Irish Christmas carol that we'll perform in English. Other carols include 'The Carole of the Birds,' 'The Cherry Tree Carol' and 'In the Deep Midwinter.' They're songs that are rarely — if ever — heard in America."
What: "A Celtic Christmas"
When: 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22
Where: Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford
Tickets: $25, $29 or $33; $15, $19 or $23 for ages 8 through 18
Call: 541-779-3000 or see www.craterian.org
Foley and his ensemble bring to life earlier times in Western Ireland, where the spirit of Christmas drew families, friends and neighbors together under the rafters of thatched farmhouses — or rambling houses — for evenings of cheerful Irish songs, traditional instrumentals, dancing and stories about life. This particular evening is set in the parish of Tempall an Ghleanntain, Foley's birthplace.
"We want the audience to feel as though the show has brought them to Ireland," Foley says. "I play the man of the house. The singers, musicians, dancers and audience play the neighbors. The audience becomes engaged, and there's a lot of spontaneous laughter."
"A Celtic Christmas" has become a holiday tradition at the Craterian Theater in Medford. Shows are set for 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, at the theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets cost $25, $29 or $33; $15, $19 or $23 for ages 8 through 18. Tickets can be purchased at the Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., online at www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.
New to the company this year are champion Irish dancer and accordion player Samantha Harvey; uilleann piper, whistle and bodhrain player and singer Patrick D'Arcy, who is originally from Dublin; and Alice Ryan, an Irish singer and sean-nos dancer who is a graduate of the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts.
Sean-nos is looser style of dancing than step dancing. It doesn't use strict patterns and allows the arms to move.
Celtic guitarist William Coulter, dancer Marcus Donnelly and fiddler, whistle player and dancer Kathleen Keane join Foley again this year.
"Marcus has developed his own style of Irish dancing," Foley says. "He's mixed step dancing and sean-nos into an unconstrained interpretation of those traditions."
Donnelly began dancing when he was 8 or 9, Foley says. He studied dance at the Celine Hession School of Dancing in Galway, Ireland. His dance company is based in Edmonton, Alberta.
"We'll also have the ever popular dance duel," Foley says. "We invite members of the audience to participate."
Foley tells stories of early Irish culture during the show. Many were taught to him by his grandmother. One such tale is about Ireland's holy wells, or sacred springs.
"There are hundreds of these wells that represent the oldest places of unbroken veneration in Europe," Foley says. "These are places where pagans worshipped for thousands of years before the first Christmas.
"According to lore, there are a few days of the year when these wells are at their most potent. One of those days is the winter solstice. Just before Christmas, we would visit our local sacred spring. There was a ritual of walking around the well three times and stomping our feet at each of the cardinal points. Now, of course, it's a Christian tradition, and people say prayers at the four points and drink from the wells to experience their healing powers.
"You can't visit the wells without feeling that they are special places," Foley says. "In Celtic tradition, springs come from the other world, and that's where the real power lies."