It’s hard to believe that Christmas was once banned in New England – by the Puritans of course! They objected to the merrymaking and caroling, the gift-giving and time off work, and the drinking and feasting that seemingly had pagan overtones.
Thankfully, those 17th century scrooges are ancient memories. Today New England celebrates Christmas and New Year in their proper context, as a reflection on individual religious beliefs, a precursor to the deepening winter months, and a time to be thankful for family and friends.
Here’s a sampling of holiday celebrations taking place across the region.
Fiddling in Harvard
One of the perennial favorites of the holidays is Brian O’Donovan’s “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn,” a fully-realized pageant to the essence of Christmas and the power of music for evoking our lifelong memories. Now in its ninth year, the show is finishing up its two week tour of the region, with five matinee and evening shows at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in downtown Boston from Dec. 16-18.
A native of Clonakilty, Cork, and host of Celtic Sojourn on WGBH FM, O’Donovan sets a wonderful tone to this variety show that is at times robust and joyous, then reflective and nostalgic. Musical director Seamus Egan brings unfailing taste and quality to the musical arrangements and performances.
This year’s Sojourn cast includes Derry singer Len Graham, Canadian singer Ruth Moody, fiddle stand-out Hanneke Cassel and her group Halali, Kansas City piper Kieran O’Hare, the amazing step-dancers from the Harney Academy of Dance and many more.
In Worcester, “A Classic Irish Christmas” with Andy Cooney performs at Mechanics Hall on Dec. 15. Cooney is a consummate musician and stage presence, and offers a nice combination of Christmas songs and Irish melodies. His talented cast includes County Clare folk singer Kate Pursell, humorist George Casey and the Darrah Carr Dancers.
Irish harpist, singer and composer Aine Minogue performs her annual Winter Solstice concert, a beautiful meditation on the changing seasons and the ancient Celtic melodies that mark the winter season.
On Dec. 17, Aine is joined by All-Ireland fiddler player Brendan Bulger for a concert at the Common Fence Point Community Hall in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Then on Dec. 23 she’s giving a solo performance at the famous Club Passim’s in Harvard Square, Cambridge.
Finally, one of the grand holiday traditions New England is the Boston Pops Holiday Show at stately Boston Symphony Hall. Led by conductor Keith Lockhart, the concerts run through Dec. 24, and each night has different guests, including surprise visits from Santa at the matinee shows.
Culture and Church
On Dec. 17-18, the film, “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” is playing at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Boston. Sponsored by Arts Emerson, this classic Eugene O’Neill tale features Katherine Hepburn and Jason Robards, Jr., and provides a haunting glimpse into O’Neill’s own dysfunctional family life.
On Dec. 18, the historic Omni Parker House hosts a dramatic performance of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” from 2 to 4 p.m. Actor Al LePage brings this classic tale to life in the very hotel where Dickens himself first read his story in America.
There’s no better holiday outing for families than the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. The Library has exhibits on JFK’s term in office and on the Kennedy Family, and a gift shop filled with Kennedy books, calendars, and memorabilia. On Dec. 28, the Library presents the Catskill Puppet Theater’s performance of a children’s play entitled “The Willow Girl.”
One of the hallowed Catholic traditions in Boston is the Christmas Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End. This year Cardinal Sean O’Malley celebrates the Nativity of Jesus. On Christmas Eve, an organ prelude begins at 11:00 p.m., followed by Midnight Mass. Then on Christmas Day, Cardinal O’Malley celebrates Mass at 11:30 a.m.
New Year’s Eve
On Cape Cod, the Clancy Tradition, a family of musicians originally from County Armagh, is performing at this year’s First Night in the beautiful seaside town of Chatham.
The band includes brothers Gene on banjo and Pat on piano accordion. Gene’s daughter Rosemary, also an accomplished violin maker, plays fiddle and mandolin, while Pat’s daughter Liadain adds vocals. The family performance is rounded out by New York pianist and flautist Brendan Dolan. The band performs two shows at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Chatham at 8 and 9 p.m.
In Vermont, Gypsy Reel, the green state’s premier Irish band, performs at the rustic Grafton Inn in Grafton, VT on New Year’s Eve. The band features multi-talented Claudine Langille on banjo, mandolin and vocals, fiddler Graham Parker, guitarist Jon Scaife, and singer Camille Parker. The Grafton Inn is offering a four-course dinner for $65 per person, and $29.95 for children.
The Black Rose Pub near Faneuil Hall was recently voted Boston’s Best Irish Pub. Check out the Irish New Year’s Eve Dinner on Dec. 31 between 5 and 10 p.m. The $60 charge includes a three-course dinner, two drinks and a pint of Guinness to welcome the New Year. Throughout the night are great Irish ballad bands, including Jim Coyle, Celtic Clan and Sunday’s Well.
Up the street at One Boston Place, the Four Green Fields Pub, which opened last February, is celebrating its first New Year’s Eve in Boston. The pub, famous for its full-sized Irish cottage on the premises, has booked the Prodigals, considered one of the best Irish trad-rock bands, for the evening. Admission is $20.
The Burren Pub in Davis Square Somerville is featuring brilliant Galway fiddler Helena Delaney and her all-star cast of stellar traditional musicians for a rousing session to welcome the New Year. In the back room, Red Square, New England’s premier cover band, is holding court. Admission is $20.
For more details on these and other Irish activities in New England, visit IrishBoston.org.