Anna Atkinson presents Frost and Flame: A Celtic Musical Christmas Celebration at Cedar United Church. (Photo courtesy Marjie Callaghan)

Singer presents Christmas concert in the languages of the Celtic realms

Anna Atkinson holds annual food bank fundraiser at Cedar United Church

The Celtic people speak and sing in many languages, and Anna Atkinson will be showcasing seven of those tongues at her upcoming Christmas benefit concert.

The local vocalist and VIU English professor will be performing in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Latin, Cornish, Breton and Manx in Frost and Flame: A Celtic Musical Christmas Celebration at Cedar United Church on Dec. 22. For the seventh year her Christmas show will also serve as a fundraiser for the Loaves and Fishes food bank as well as Cedar United.

The meaning of the songs won’t be entirely lost on the audience, Atkinson said, as actor and minister of Cedar United Erin Sterling will be providing spoken word translations throughout. She said the concert is named in reference to the vivid, evocative nature of the Celtic languages.

“It’s the immediacy of the sensation of frost, and the incredible scorching heat almost of the visions of the angels across the sky,” she said. “All of that comes through in the languages of the various Celtic realms.”

Atkinson said although it’s challenging to memorize a song in an unfamiliar language, let alone seven, much can be lost in translation. She said there are two ways that could go, and both are unsatisfying.

“You can either make it a really literal translation and try to lose nothing of the original language and then the song sounds ridiculous because the words don’t fit the tune anymore,” she said. “Or you can do a really loose translation that fits the tune really well, but doesn’t capture the original essence.”

Atkinson said singing in languages other than English is one of the things she enjoys most about being a Celtic singer.

“The other thing that’s really important to me about singing in these languages is that they are languages that are indigenous to the places where the Celts were,” Atkinson said. “And many of them, including Breton and Cornish, were endangered languages and in fact still do suffer some sort of cultural pressure from English.”

Atkinson said that by remembering and keeping the Celtic tongues alive through her performance she hopes to be standing in solidarity with indigenous languages from around the world that are at risk of disappearing.

“Perhaps one day I will be gifted to even be able to sing in the indigenous languages of this place, which would be a wonderful gift indeed,” she said. “I do love hearing those languages spoken and sung.”

WHAT’S ON … Anna Atkinson presents Frost and Flame: A Celtic Musical Christmas Celebration at Cedar United Church, 1644 Cedar Rd., on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets $20, available via phone at 250-327-2247 or email at

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