Celebrate an Irish Christmas in Fairfield

Danu will perform Irish music of the Christmas season Sunday, Dec. 8, at Fairfield University. (John C. Kelly)

Danu will perform Irish music of the Christmas season Sunday, Dec. 8, at Fairfield University. (John C. Kelly)

Celebrating Christmas in Fairfield or back home in Ireland, Irish eyes are always smiling during the holiday season.

Jude Fitzgerald, president of the Gaelic American Club, said Christmas in Ireland is traditionally a two-week holiday that begins on Christmas Day and ends on Jan. 7, which is the Feast of the Epiphany.

“Everything closes down and we spend the day going to each other’s houses for a song and a dance,” Fitzgerald said.

Events at the Gaelic American Club, Sacred Heart University and Fairfield University this weekend will bring a sampling of an Irish Christmas to Fairfield.

Jude Fitzgerald (right), president of the Gaelic American Club, listens to 93-year-old Peter Bellew play the accordion.

Jude Fitzgerald (right), president of the Gaelic American Club, listens to 93-year-old Peter Bellew play the accordion.

The Gaelic American Club will host its annual Celtic Christmas Fair on Saturday, Dec. 7. Traditional foods, such as Irish sausages, bacon and pudding, will be available for purchase. Dancers from the Lenihan School of Irish Dance will serve lunch. The dance school uses the club’s facility for lessons. Fitzgerald said the young dancers support the organization by dancing for its St. Patrick’s Day party and other special events.

Vendors from all over New England participate in the Celtic Christmas Fair.

“We have a lot of hand-knitted Irish sweaters, linens and all kinds of traditional items,” Fitzgerald said.

Boxes filled with Irish candy, a holiday tradition for children in Ireland, will also be available.

For the first time, the Celtic Fair will offer photographs with Santa Claus.

Information is available from the Gaelic American Club at 203-254-0673.

Holiday music

Cherish the Ladies: An Irish Christmas will be staged Saturday, Dec. 7, at 8 p.m. at Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts at Sacred Heart University, sponsored by the Sacred Heart University Center for Irish Cultural Studies and the Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society.

Cherish the Ladies was founded in 1985 by Joanie Madden. Although the vocalists and instrumentalists have changed over the years, Madden continues to perform with the group.

“She is a world-class musician on the tin whistles and flutes,” said Dr. Gerald Reid, chairman of Sacred Heart University’s anthropology department and program director for Irish studies. “The musical group has an international reputation.”

Among the dancers performing with Cherish the Ladies is 24-year-old Meghan Lucey, born in Easton and now living in Fairfield.

Lucey said her mother saw an ad in the newspaper and signed her 7-year-old daughter up for lessons at the Pender Keady Academy of Irish Dance in Stamford.

“I fell in love with it,” Lucey said.

She has performed with Riverdance, and with her group Hammersteps earned a standing ovations and four votes for a trip to Las Vegas on America’s Got Talent.

“That was very exciting,” Lucey said.

This is Lucey’s fourth year dancing with Cherish the Ladies.

“One of my friends, a fellow dancer, is in it. He mentioned to me that they needed another girl, asked if I wanted to join,” Lucey recalled. “I did a couple shows and it must have been a good fit, because I liked them, and they liked me.”

In January, Lucey will be back with Riverdance for a tour of Europe, she said.

For more information, call the Edgerton Center for the Arts at 203-371-7908.

On Sunday, Dec. 8, at 3 p.m., Danu Christmas in Ireland: An Nollaig in Eirinn will be performed at Fairfield University’s Quick Center for the Arts.

“Danu is absolutely phenomenal,” said Fitzgerald. “All they play is basic Irish music. They’re known for their fiddles, tin whistles, Uilleann pipes, and accordion.”

The ensemble’s lead vocalist is Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh.

The Irish Christmas program is sponsored by the Quick Center and Fairfield University’s Office of Graduate Student Life. For more information, call the Quick Center’s box office at 203-254-4010.

Irish traditions

Reid said Christmas in Ireland usually begins with the community lighting candles in their windows on Christmas Eve.

“The candles are lit after sunset and are intended to represent a light that’s going to welcome Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus,” Reid said.

After gathering with family and close friends on Christmas Day for eating, drinking, dancing, and singing, Irish men and women continue their holiday celebration on Dec. 26 for Stephen’s Day, which is also called Wren’s Day.

According to Irish folklore, the Wren Boy Procession began when a group of village soldiers was saved from an attack by a flock of wrens who pecked on their drums and awakened them.

Reid said a procession of the Wren’s Society, a fraternal organization comprised of groups from different neighborhoods and villages, dresses in costumes and plays traditional music while traveling from house to house.

“It’s a massive celebration,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s a big pub day because everyone wants to be there when the Wren Boys come and sing. It’s actually a bigger day than Christmas in Ireland.”

Preserving tradition is why Fitzgerald joined the Gaelic American Club, where she previously served on the board of directors. Her family immigrated from Ireland’s Clonmel County Tipperary in 1988.

“I joined the club when we moved here,” Fitzgerald explained, “because its mission is to preserve social and cultural activities for the Irish and Irish/American communities.”

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