Today is Saint Stephen’s day, and for those in the Irish music community, it means one thing: Wren Boys! Tonight we will dress funny (and warmly), and go from house to pub, and sometimes even a fire station, playing tunes while the dancers dance a set. Sometimes the house is too small, and then we play on the street. Then we’ll pass the hat; this is a fundraiser for the Cooley-Keegan branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.
Going on the wren is an old tradition that was nearly lost in the 20th century, and it nearly wiped out the winter wrens of Ireland as small boys hunted wrens to exhaustion and death to use the poor small carcass in their house to house festivities. Nowadays, I’ve heard that people use a fake wren (we do). Thank goodness.
Last night, unable to sleep (as usual), I was mulling over an illustration for wren boys, and an idea popped into my head that the wrens were to be used for the hunt, so that they’d be a part of the hunters rather than being the hunted.
I needed to draw people small enough to fit on the back of the wren. Call these wee folk what you will. The hats were inspired by a failed sketch at the Dicken’s fair (interesting how a sketch you hate can still generate ideas), the lanterns inspired by a pair of fabulous lamps made by my friend Cyndy.
Imen McDonnell, at I Married an Irish Farmer has a wonderful post about the Christmas season in Ireland, where, it seems, the season lasts a couple weeks rather than the day and a half it lasts here (not counting the marketing frenzy leading up to it.)
And if you are in San Francisco and hear whistle, fiddle, flute, and drum tonight playing outside your window, step out and join us!