The Avondhu - By The Fireside 2020
Bitten by the CHRISTMAS CHOIR BUG
"Children these days" was only ever used in a positive way as we grew up in the shadows of poets in Carraig na bhFear.
Long, long ago, in a different time; in my experience from 2008 on Carraig na bhFear (a place that hasn’t been a Gaeltacht since around the time of the aforementioned poets) offered (and continues to offer) a childhood steeped in ‘new traditionalism’. Through my time in primary and secondary school, this was never more prevalent than at Christmas time.
At Christmas time the evenings would get dark and for a few beautiful days, the hills of our village would be clothed in light snow. This offered the perfect backdrop for our play and recitation practices as well as in later years, warm evenings spent in the parish church practising with the village choir.
We’d start practising our standard school plays (Nativities mostly with witty political jokes that we didn’t understand…) and then move on closer to Christmas to practising our Scór na bPáistí plays. This was where the real magic happened. This was where we’d use Irish words interchangeably with English words. In front of the cardboard kitchen set, year after year we’d call each other a leanbh.
Scór usen’t be until after Christmas, I think early spring, so this was the perfect time. We weren’t expected to be at the professional standard that prestigious competitions like Scór require, we could just act and learn lines and make mistakes (what’s a dropped hoover between friends…)
As well as these plays we got the chance to audition for recitations. I loved the idea of this, a personal play (and for those of us who couldn’t sing or dance, a way of maximising our Scór potential). In 2009, I auditioned and was given the recitation for Jimeen Máire Tadhg; I sat up on a high stool wearing a paddy hat borrowed from my granda first in front of my class, then in front of the school. Nothing says Christmas and Carraig na bhFear like Jimeen.
Around Christmas time in 2010 a night was held for the older people in Carraig na bhFear, where we, the Scór gang, got a chance to perform. Set and figure dancers danced, solo singers sang, banna ceoils played and I recited a story that I’d written. We enjoyed the afternoon as much as them and I felt like I’d really arrived. ‘Was this fame?’ - we thought so.
In later years, in secondary school, I was dragged into joining the choir by two friends. I wasn’t very interested and joined late in the year, around November of first year. On dreary Tuesday evenings we practised Christmas songs (again some as Gaeilge) in the chapel preparing for the annual school Christmas concert. As we walked home in the cold as it got dark, I wondered would it be worth it.
The day of my first Christmas concert changed my opinion on this for life. The chapel was donned with tinsel and in our Christmas jumpers we huddled in the sacristy as religious statues silently wished us good luck. The school piled in and sang along. There was such an atmosphere of relief (to be finishing school for a while) and of Christmas that I couldn’t not love it. And this quickly became my favourite day of the school year. All walks home, as it was getting dark, were worth it for the concert.
We were so bitten by the Christmas choir bug that when the opportunity to join the village Christmas choir arose, we jumped at the chance. And soon we were teenagers going to three different Christmas Day and Eve Masses. We weren’t the holiest people there and we definitely weren’t the best singers, but there is a good chance that we were the happiest!