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A Jolly Holiday that Honors a Family’s Irish Roots

Less stuff and more laughter for the Fleming family.


In the Irish countryside, Christmas was a family-focused, non-commercial affair for John Fleming — and it was a vibe that his American-born wife, Kathleen, was eager to re-create when they moved to Shoreline years ago. 

“We did Christmas in ways that were special to him,” says Kathleen, “which meant toning it down.” 

They decided to limit the gifts for their three children, focus on Mass and other events at their Catholic church, take evening walks to check out light displays and play board games together. 

There is no visit from Santa Claus and no stockings, but still plenty of holiday sweetness. The family — which includes sons Ciarán, 15, and Ruairí, 11, and daughter Gráinne, 13 — makes snowman sugar cookies decorated as favorite pop culture characters. Cookies are transformed into the cast of Harry Potter or felines from the Warrior Cats books. This year, Kathleen expects Star Trek and Dr. Who characters to figure prominently. 

And there’s also a family trip to see the panto performed every year during the Christmas holidays at Hale’s Ales Palladium in Seattle. 

The panto, short for pantomime, is a traditional British musical comedy. The actors encourage the audience to sing, boo, hiss and shout warnings at the performers on stage. There’s popcorn, beer and a live band. The Nutcracker it ain’t. 

“You’re singing ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,’ my Irish husband gets to have a beer, the jokes are ridiculously hilarious,” Kathleen says. 

The panto changes annually, featuring the Fremont Players’ campy take on fairy tales including “Hansel and Gretel and the Three Bears” and “Beauty and the Beast.” This year’s show is “Rapunzelstiltskin.” 

Kathleen particularly likes the ghost, garbed in a flowered bed sheet, that makes an annual appearance, whatever the fairy tale. “It’s organic, homegrown humor,” she says. “We come home laughing.” 

This month we highlight the winter holiday traditions of families in our community. To find more stories about how families celebrate go here.


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