First Night Binghamton 2007Around the World and Home Again


IRISH (also Welsh, Manx, and other Celtic regions)

"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze;
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Pray give us a penny to bury the wran."
(Traditional Irish Wren song)

Irish tradition holds that the wren symbolizes the old year, while the robin symbolizes the year to come. To ensure that the passage from old year to new could take place, it was once common practice on St. Stephen's Day (December 26) for a group of local boys to hunt and kill a wren. This band of so-called Wren Boys, ususally costumed and often masked, would then travel from house to house carrying the wren in a small box or casket (other sources say the wren was tied to a pole and decked with ribbons). The regaled each house with musical laments for the unfortunate bird along with pleas to raise money for the funeral.

Although the Wren Boys are rarely seen today, and virtually unheard of among many Irish-Americans, they provide a historical thread to Ireland's tumultuous past. Some sources say the wren is villified because it had betrayed Irish soldiers who were staging an attack on the invading Norsemen (who had been responsible for the destructions of the some of the great monastic communities of early Christendom, such as Abbey at Kells). Pecking at some bread crumbs left upon a drum, the wren betrayed the hiding place of the Irish and led to their defeat. Other myths hold that the wren betrayed St. Stephen himself with its chirping, leading to the first martyrdom of a Christian saint. Although the custom of sacrificing a wren is most commonly associated with Ireland, aome form of the tradition actually exists throughout Celtic world, with similar rites found in the Isle of Man, Wales, and France.

We paid homage to the Wren Boys through the creation of a giant animated wren lantern, beset on all sides by a band of masked Wren Boys. As they give chase to the old year and make way for the new on First Night, their song will be carried aloft on giant harps, the national symbol of Ireland (and an instrument once banned by British invaders of a later era.

For further info on the Wren Boys:


Further info on First Night & Processional Arts Workshop:

Other New Year's traditions from First Night 2007 . . .

About Processional Arts Workshop . . .



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