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Foley and friends return with 'A Celtic Christmas'

Prepare to go back in time to the 1950s to a remote farmhouse in the parish of Teampall an Ghleanntáin in the west of Ireland as Tomáseen Foley’s “A Celtic Christmas” celebrates its 24th successive performance on the Craterian Theatre’s stage.

Unlike the “high culture” of continental Europe, it was the ordinary people, often rural people, that gave birth to Ireland’s heritage — the priceless treasury of Irish culture.

The music, singing, dancing and the storytelling all were created and nurtured by the firesides of small farmers, tradesmen, fishermen and laborers.

Long before “Riverdance,” ordinary men and women — at the end of a day working in field, meadow, bog or glen — would gather at each others’ cottages at Christmastime, and, rhythmically battering the floor with their hob-nailed boots, would raise sparks off the flagstones with their jigs, reels and hornpipes. They would “raise the rafters” with the fiery music of fiddle, whistle, bodhrán and the mesmerizing uilleann pipes.

In concert halls from California to Florida, from Texas to Maine, native Irishman (and Talent resident) Foley recreates just such a night, with his unique brand of storytelling magic.

Foley takes audiences back to a night before Christmas in the 1950s, to a place where the motor car, television and telephone were little more than unlikely rumors, and to a time when the neighbors would gather at each others’ homes, bringing with them not only their traditional musical instruments but also their songs, their dances, their laughter and always, ever and always, their stories.

Foley grew up in a home that had a thatch roof, stone walls, tiny windows and a flagstone floor. It didn’t have any modern conveniences either — no plumbing, running water, electricity, and the sole source of heat was an open turf fire. However, as time marched on, the “old communal way of life” began to change with the introduction of electricity into his community. As Foley grew older and began to travel the world, he found that a part of him has always remained firmly rooted in the “Old World,” before electricity came along with all of its advances, entertainments and distractions.

“Perhaps it was only by traveling through much of the New World I found that the old communal world, that world I had glimpsed briefly in childhood, inexplicably, almost magically, was alive within me — and I felt I had to give it expression,” Foley writes on his website. “And since storytelling in the Old World was as natural as breathing, I found myself becoming a storyteller — of sorts.”

With warmth and humor, Foley and a dazzling tribe of world-class, award-winning Celtic musicians, singers and dancers bring back those “good old days” of Christmas evenings spent by a roaring fire, if only for a little while. Dancers this year include Alyssa Reichert and Marcus Donnelly, and musicians include multi-instrumentalist and dancer Eimear Arkins, William Coulter on guitar and Brian Bigley on pipes.

“ ‘A Celtic Christmas’ seeks to be a window to that Old World by attempting to recreate the joy and innocence of just such a night, and, when we succeed, its memory may linger — and even shimmer — long, long after the curtain comes down,” Foley states.

This holiday treat is set for 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets are $32-$38 for adults, $22-$28 for children and students 22 and younger.

For tickets and information, see craterian.org or call the Craterian Box Office at 541-779-3000.

A scene from Tomáseen Foley's "A Celtic Christmas." Courtsey photo.