Although Saint Patrick converted the Irish to Catholicism in the fifth century, the previously pagan population didn’t abandon its Celtic traditions altogether but rather folded them into its newly found beliefs. For example, the Celts used mistletoe in their Winter Solstice celebrations, as it was believed to have magical properties that bestowed health; holly and ivy were thought to keep evil spirits at bay; and they decorated trees with symbols of solar objects as gifts to gods and goddesses.
The practices born out of the mingling of customs can still be seen today in myriad Irish celebrations, including Christmas. On December 7, Santa Barbarans can get a taste of yuletide rituals from the Old Sod when Kerry Irish Productions presents An Irish Christmas, an evening of song, dance, and storytelling. “It is extraordinary how closely connected we are to our past,” said Margaret O’Carroll, who conceived, produced, and directs the presentation. “We are a product of so much that came before us, and our traditions are part of that inheritance.”
To that end, the troupe, which includes world-champion dancers Scott Doherty, Tyler Schwartz, Connor Reider, and Kelly Pearson, presents pieces whose foundations were inspired by old conventions such as butter churning and chasing the wren on St. Stephen’s Day. Musically, the program weaves Irish melodies with popular Christmas songs such as “Silent Night,” “Little Drummer Boy,” and “Carol of the Bells,” played on uilleann (“elbow”) pipes, tin whistles, and bodhráns, instruments unique to the Emerald Isle.
An Irish Christmas, which was featured on PBS a few years ago, takes place Thursday, December 7, 7:30 p.m., at The Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). Call 899-2222 or visit granadasb.com or anirishchristmastour.com.