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Wren Party

History, News

St. Stephen’s Day Wren Hat Competition!

December 26 is the feast day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. 

Legend has it that St. Stephen’s hiding place was betrayed by the chattering of a wren.For centuries, the feast day has been recalled in Ireland by the “Wren boys,” who dress in motley clothing, marching from house to house to collect money for a party for the whole town or village, and sometimes to support a charity. 

Traditionally, they exacted their vengeance on the unfortunate bird by carrying a wren aloft on a stick—hunted down in the old days, but for years (mercifully) a toy bird.

One way to celebrate the day is by creating a colorful wren hat. Shannon Lambert-Ryan, with help from her eager assistant Liam de Barra, show you how in this video, a special edition of their Baking with Babies series. (Hint: It’s not just for babies!)

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Photo Essays, Photos

Photo Essay: The 20th Annual Wren Party

The 20th annual Wren Party, sponsored by the Philadelphia-Delaware Valley chapter of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, is done and dusted.

CCÉ’s yearly event commemorates an ancient Irish custom, in which the humble wren is alleged to have given away the hiding place of St. Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr. In olden days, “wren boys” or “straw boys” would parade around their village, bearing the body of a hapless wren on a stick and begging contributions for a big village bash.

In this case, absolutely no wrens were harmed, of course. The only birds were fake.

Party-goers danced on into the night to tunes provided by a big Irish traditional band, Rosemarie Timoney’s dancers put on a lively exhibition, and there was a cute little wren parade, in which participants were awarded for the quality and inventiveness of their wren hats.

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Celebrate the Holidays at the 20th Annual Wren Party

We’re about to celebrate an Irish Christmas custom that has its roots in an unusual ritual going back centuries, and you’re invited.

It’s the feast of St. Stephen—December 26—and the Irish conferred upon this holy commemoration a distinctly unusual twist, which we’ll get to.

Sponsored by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann-Delaware Valley, the local chapter of a worldwide organization that celebrates traditional Irish music, dance, language and culture, the annual Wren Party begins at 7 p.m. the night after Christmas. It takes place at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 235 Limekiln Pike in Glenside, Montgomery County.

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Dance, Music

Come to the Wren Party!

Legend has it that it was the chattering of a wren who gave away St. Stephen’s hiding place in a bush, leading to his murder and martyrdom.

Fast forward several centuries to the Emerald Isle, where the so-called “wren boys” commemorated the feast day of St. Stephen—December 26—singing, playing music and dancing in exchange for applause and money to be collected for a party or dance for their village. They performed in colorful clothing and masks.

In the early days, they actually hunted for a wren, killed it and mounted it atop a stick. Thankfully, these days, the tradition continues, but with no avian casualties—a fake wren will do.

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News, People

Fly to the Wren Party

OK, so St. Stephen is hiding in a bush, trying to elude early Christian haters. Suddenly, a tiny wren alights on the bush and immediately begins making an enormous birdy racket. Thanks to the wren, the Christian haters figure out where St. Stephen is hiding. They yank him out from the bush and stone him to death.

Fast forward hundreds of years to the Emerald Isle. Every year, on the feast of St. Stephen (the day after Christmas), local guys track down and kill a wren and mount him on a stick, parading his poor carcass about town. The wren boys, they’re called, and you can tell they’re wren boys because they’re dressed in funny costumes, and they sing and they dance. They beg for drinks, food and spare change. This becomes a happy little tradition.

The idea of the wren boys still exists in Ireland, although—thankfully—no one slaughters little birds any more. And a variation on the legend lives on locally in a fun-filled and completely avian-free evening at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Limekiln Pike in Glenside.

It’s the 10th annual Wren Party, and it is sponsored by the Delaware Valley chapter of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (translation: Gathering of Musicians in Ireland). Comhaltas (pronounced coal-tuss) is dedicated to the perpetuation of Irish music, dance and culture. It’s a party worthy of the Comhaltas mission, featuring live traditional Irish music, set and ceili dance—even a contest for best wren boy hat.

“We’re asking people to put together a hat and join our wren boys parade,” says Jackie Kelly, the local Comhaltas public relations officer who, with Cass Tinney, runs the post-Christmas event. “Every child who enters the parade gets a prize.”

The hat parade is just one of the many activities geared for children. There’s also a puppet show.

But at its core, the Wren Party is about music and dance. Well-known local musician Kevin McGillian and friends set a lively pace, and they do it all for free. There will also be a performance by Haley Richardson, a young New Jersey fiddler who at 6 years old placed first in the 12-and-under category at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil (music festival) at Pearl River, N.Y., last spring. She’ll knock your socks off.

If you love dance, you’ll stay on your feet most of the night. Wear comfy shoes.

And if you like to watch dance, you’ll get to do that, too, as the Timoney and Gibson schools put on a great exhibition.

“Its a nice night of fun and good craic,” says Kelly. “It’s our biggest event all year. We get a great turnout. People just love it. We first started at the MacSwiney Club in Jenkintown, but we outgrew it. The Knights of Columbus Hall is a much larger venue.”

For Kelly (nee Marano), it’s a great way to pass tradition along to the younger generation. “My last name is Kelly, but I’m a hundred percent Italian. But I’ve become totally immersed in this culture. I’ve been to Ireland 19 times. We keep the old tradition alive and that’s a good thing for young kids to see.”

The party starts on Saturday night, December 26, at 7 p.m. The Knights of Columbus Hall is at 235 Limekiln Pike in Glenside. It costs $10 per person. Bring a dessert, too.


2008 Wren Party

Patrick Glennan, 8, concentrates intently on his fiddle playing.

Patrick Glennan, 8, concentrates intently on his fiddle playing.

Some of you probably already know how the Irish traditionally celebrated the feast of St. Stephen—December 26. Roving groups of boys would chase and kill a wren, said to be symbolic of the old year, and parade its tiny feathery corpse through the streets on a stick. They’d stop at houses along the way and beg for “a penny to bury the wren.” (A bit of food and drink, too? Sure, they wouldn’t turn that down, either.)

This was thought to be great fun. No one asked the wren.

Well, thankfully, this bloodthirsty little tradition today is observed only symbolically—as with the annual Wren Party sponsored by the local branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, an Irish music and cultural organization, The event was held at the Glenside Knights of Columbus Hall, with much music, dance, food and fellowship.