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On Dec. 17, Saskatchewan’s Living Skies Irish Dance and musical group West of Mabou are coming together for Celtic Christmas, a celebration of the holidays and Celtic traditions.
The show will combine traditional Irish dances and Celtic music with original choreography and compositions. And, of course, there will be some holiday tunes. “Christmas music and Celtic music goes together really quite well,” said Scott Benson, who plays fiddle with West of Mabou.
“Having this type of event, especially after what we as a culture and community have been through the last couple of years, being able to bring people together to share in fun and community, is very important,” said Emily Armer, owner and dance instructor at Living Skies Irish Dance.
“It’s a ceili,” explained Armer about the holiday event. “ ‘Ceili’ essentially translates to ‘kitchen party,’ so the intention is to be a fun, festive celebration of our Celtic heritage and Christmas and to just bring people together again to kick off the Christmas season and to dance.”
The advertising for Celtic Christmas uses three other Irish-language words, “rince,” “ceol” and “craic,” which translate to “dance,” “music” and “fun.”
Living Skies and West of Mabou are dedicated to preserving their traditional art forms. “All of us in the band, we all have Celtic roots,” said Benson. “I think it’s important to carry on those traditions wherever you are, whether you’re in Cape Breton or Ireland or here in Saskatchewan.”
The band’s name references Mabou, a small community in Cape Breton, N.S., that is known for its rich tradition of Celtic music. “We’re very rooted in … traditional Scottish and Irish music, but we bring a contemporary twist to that,” said Benson about West of Mabou’s musical style. “We’ve got a full drum kit backing us.”
“When we’re playing shows and people are up dancing and having a good time … just being able to create that experience for people is really rewarding for us,” said Benson, who started playing the fiddle at the age of five.
Celtic Christmas attendees will be encouraged to dance to the band’s lively music. West of Mabou and Living Skies dancers will be performing both separately and together throughout the holiday event.“They’re amazing to work with. They’re great musicians,” said Armer about West of Mabou.
Both Armer and Benson expressed how much they enjoy the holiday season. “Being able to get together with family and friends, play music, just have a good time … it’s just always a really good way to wrap up the year,” said Benson. “I love Christmas and always look forward to it.”
“I love the feeling, the excitement, the magic that’s floating in the air,” remarked Armer.
Armer follows some Irish holiday traditions and passes on others. “We always put a candle in our window on Christmas Eve,” she said. “One of the things that I like the idea of but I’m not willing to do in Saskatchewan is on Christmas Day, folks would often go to the beach and go for a dip,” she added with a laugh.
Living Skies is already starting to prepare for St. Patrick’s Day performances at local pubs and retirement residences, while West of Mabou is getting ready to perform at Coldsnap, a winter music festival in Prince George, B.C., running Jan. 27 to Feb. 4.
Celtic Christmas is taking place at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Regina, starting at 7 p.m. with an Irish whiskey tasting, followed by performances at 7:30. “It should be a really lively show, and a good way to warm up on a chilly night,” said Benson.