Seanchai Jim Hawkins created a warm Irish Christmas spirit in the Garden City Library on December 11, 2013 at the meeting of the Irish Cultural Society. Jim began the evening with a rendition of “Christmas in Killarney” which set the tone for an evening of song, story, and Irish tradition, myth and legend. With no need for a microphone or a musical instrument, Jim captured the spirit of the Season and the hearts of the audience with the appeal of his singing voice, his dramatic use of gesture and voice—a brogue could be noticed by the attentive listener, and the charm of his recollections of Christmases as a boy in Westmeath.
The tradition part of Jim’s program brought the audience into a home being prepared for Christmas. While the women cleaned the interior, the men whitewashed the exterior of the house. Decorations included the Advent wreaths, candles for the Season of Light, and mistletoe for hugs and words of affection. The preparation of plum pudding excited the young ones—and old, too, for what greater gift is there than a slice of plum pudding. An audience member remembered his plum puddings containing a hidden ring. Always a home had on the table a welcoming cup of tea and bread for the stranger. Jim remembers, he related to his audience, a Christmas Eve when the stars were so close and so numerous that the evening remains in him as one of the great moments of his life. Personal stories, Jim’s and those of the members of the audience were a strand that ran through the evening.
The stories woven through the evening showed how much Jim had researched his material and how much of the skills of a seanchai he brings to his show. With a hint of a brogue, he told a John B. Keane story of a mother, a boy named Jack, and a Santa Claus of a postman. The lad, as Keane created him, was fond of eating, smoking, drinking but not of working. The postman’s Christmas gift created a new, if inaccurate, image of the mother’s son. Jim told the audience about the Wren Day myth and about the gatherings after Midnight Mass, and how different Christmas is today in Ireland compared to “Christmas in Ireland Long Ago,” a poem rarely heard.
Jim provided his audience with the background of the songs he sang, starting with “Christmas in Killarney.” He described the children dancing in a circle while singing “I Saw Three Ships;” indeed, had the audience more room it would surely have circled, too, as it sang. “O Holy Night,” of course, was part of the program.
Jim chose to end his evening with “Silent Night,” which everyone knows was written in German. After a verse in Irish by Jim, Jim’s Irish and Irish-American audience joined him in as warm and heart-felt a rendition of “Silent Night” as any of the more than 40 members of the audience had ever heard.
As one member of the audience said, this evening was an Advent evening to remember. A warm turf fire burned in every heart that night.