If the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge was present at Bensalem High School on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 7, even he would’ve succumbed to embracing the holiday spirit.
The auditorium was jam packed with locals of all ages ready for two hours of music, dance and an appearance by St. Nick himself – the perfect mixture to incite some seasonal cheer. This was the annual Celtic Christmas in Bensalem concert, presented by Philly Fleadh Productions and produced by CJ Mills, a teacher at the high school who runs the student-led Owls Television Network.
“The goal of this show is, and always has been, to produce a show that combines the wonder and awe of the Christmas season with the tradition and beauty of Irish and American music and dance,” Mills explained. “It is truly an honor to produce this show and perform with the amazing musicians and dancers that I get to work with.”
From the moment attendees entered the building, they were instantly immersed in a winter wonderland. In the lobby, they could browse holiday-themed artwork completed by the school’s Painting and Drawing II class, and shop jewelry and other items for loved ones. There was also a book signing of The Forgotten Christmas Presents, which was written and illustrated by Bensalem alumni.
Inside the auditorium, as guests made their way to their seats, clips of classic films like Elf and Jingle All The Way, strategically put together by students of the Owls Television Network, played on a large screen.
At 5 p.m., The Celtic Christmas Band took the stage, which was intricately decorated with glistening lights and larger-than-life trees. The group was comprised of Philadelphia-based musicians who played together in public for the first time that night.
Returning to the band was Bob Hurst, frontman and accordion player from The Bogside Rogues; Ray Coleman, of County Tyrone, Ireland; and Mills, who has been in Bensalem orchestras since the first grade and playing in rock and Irish bands for the past 24 years, on fiddle.
New members this year included Seamus McGroary, of Donegal, Ireland; Kevin O’Shea, lead singer and guitarist from the Irish band Oakwyn; Michael Anthony Thompson from the band Masquerade; and Bensalem social studies teacher George Leigh, who brought a fresh brass element to the band.
The Celtic Christmas Band was on top of its game as it played enjoyable renditions of favorite tunes such as “Christmas Eve in Sarajevo,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Silent Night.” During a number of songs, the band was joined by talented young performers.
More than 50 dancers from The Celtic Flame School of Irish Dance, which has studio locations in Bensalem and the surrounding areas, showed off their hard and soft shoe skills in complicated Irish dance routines. Meanwhile, The Bucks County Dance Center, one of the oldest and largest dance schools in Bensalem, brought tap, lyrical, jazz and hip hop to the stage. Additionally, the show highlighted a group of advanced dancers from the dance classes that are now offered at Bensalem High School.
Throughout Celtic Christmas in Bensalem, the audience was treated to many surprises, including an appearance by Santa Claus, who joined the band in singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town;” a high-energy production of “Hot Chocolate” from The Polar Express; and a chilling version of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” by several guest vocalists, including YouTube sensation Jed “Kid Travis” Wright, a former member of Bensalem’s choral department whose Post Malone covers have been viewed by more than 40 million people, and Hailey Mills, an eighth-grade student at Snyder Middle School.
Also appearing were cadets from Bensalem’s MCJROTC, who presented the colors as Femineus Vocalis, the school’s women’s choir led by Raegen Ruiz, sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”
A portion of all proceeds from Celtic Christmas in Bensalem as well as money from the snack bar and 50/50 will be donated to the Visual and Performing Arts programs in the district through the Bensalem Education Foundation, and to the Ryan K. Wilson Memorial OTN Scholarship, which was formed in memory of an Owls Television Network member who passed away several years ago. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com