The Kelly family. In back from left: Brian, Jessica, Blake, Megan, Vivian and Anthony. In front: Kaleb, Delta, and Marie.

Kelly Family Christmas an annual tradition for many

December 18, 2017 10:25 am
Kara Kinna

For almost 20 years now, the musically talented Kelly family from Rocanville has been coming together at Christmas to host their annual Kelly Family Christmas show. While the show is an annual tradition for the Kellys, it has also become and annual tradition for those who attend it.

When the Kellys started singing together as a family at Christmas 19 years ago, it was as a favor for a friend. They had no idea that the Kelly Family Christmas was being born.

“It started with good friends Don and Shannon Shakotko—we had got to know them when Don was teaching in Maryfield and they came to the Anglican church,” says Delta Kelly, who sings with her sons and her grandchildren in the show. “Then they moved down to Forget and bought the old monastery down there and turned it into a bed and breakfast for artists called the Ananda Art House. And they started having concerts every month—house concerts to help local musicians and also to help pay for the restoration of the house. And so they asked us to help come and do their Christmas show.”

“For their very first Christmas show, originally she asked if we would come and do a bluegrass Christmas and we didn’t think we were very much a bluegrass act and did our best, and it ended up being more of a family show, because at that time we had four brothers and my mom and I think all the kids were pretty small,” says Blake, Delta’s son.

“As the years progressed they kept asking us to come back and it became a tradition for them and they would watch our kids grow up every Christmas. And they became family for us and it became part of our Christmas tradition too.”

Delta says someone finally asked the Kelly family if they would hold a concert in their home town.

“Somebody locally said ‘well if you can travel all the way down there to the show there why can’t you do it here at home?’ So that is what got us started.

“We started having it in our local St. Thomas Anglican church (in Rocanville) because we didn’t know how many people would be interested, and that church holds about 50 people. Well it got to a point where we were having to do two shows, then eventually three shows. By that time we were worshipping in partnership with the United Church in Rocanville and so we asked if we could do our show in their church.”

Today three generations of the Kelly family—Delta, her sons, and their children—perform together not just in Rocanville, but in Moosomin and in other communities when asked. They do between three and four concerts a year. This year they are holding five.

“The reason that we continue to do it is because people continue to ask,” says Delta. “And we are a Christian family and it is also our opportunity to share our faith, share the message about the importance of Christmas, what is actually important around the Christmas season, why we are actually celebrating. And so it gives us the opportunity to talk about the Christ child and our faith and share it with others.”

“It was originally just kind of as a favor for friends with their new business, with the Ananda Arthouse down in Forget, and then we thought ‘this sounds like a good way to raise some funds for our local church, so let’s do that,’” says Blake. “And then we progressed some more, and both (my brothers) Anthony and Patrick are songwriters, so they wrote some Christmas songs. And then people said ‘we’d sure love to have a recording of some of this stuff, so two CDs later here we are.

“It’s taken on a life of its own.”

“A lot of it has been driven by the community wanting that kind of a show to go to,” says Delta. “They feel like it begins their Christmas season in the right spirit. That’s what we’re told.”

“But did we think it would last this long?” says Blake. “We’re just happy to be able to help people celebrate the Christmas season and get them in the Christmas spirit. Longevity wasn’t our goal here. That’s the thing about Christmas. A lot of it’s about nostalgia. Our show for some people becomes nostalgic.”

The annual shows double as a fundraiser and have been a good way to raise money for St. Thomas Anglican Church in Rocanville. The Kellys have performed around Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and when they perform in other communities, the show is usually held as a fundraiser in that community.

This year the family performed in Gainsborough for the United Church there, at the Moosomin Armoury, at a Lutheran Bible camp in Estevan as a fundraiser for the camp, and in Regina at the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church as a fundraiser for that church’s roof. Their show in Rocanville is coming up this Thursday, Dec. 21 and will be held in the PotashCorp Rocanville Community Hall this year.

The Rocanville show will also include other local talent, including the local Sunday school, the Neville family, and James Calloway.

“We’re actually blessed with a lot of talent in the area we like to feature as well. I know the Moosomin carol festival likes to feature a lot of local talent and this is something we can do to do the same thing,” says Blake.

The Kellys have been musicians for four generations and Delta says they can’t imagine their lives without music.

“Music has been very important in our family forever, from the time the boys were very young we sang together a lot,” she says. “Their dad Terrance played the guitar and he always had a guitar and mandolin out on the end of the couch. It was always just a part of what we did. It is still a very important part of who we are and how we share the gift that God has given us together.

“It’s not too often you can create something like that as a family, and create memories for other people. We feel blessed to be able to do that,” says Blake.

“Perhaps that is one of the draws for people,” adds Delta. “Because of the time of the year, the season, the nostalgia like Blake was saying, it’s a family holiday, it’s a family time of year and we can enhance that by sharing our family.

“It is a humbling experience to be able to touch people’s hearts with what we can do.”

“And we’re grateful for the support the community has shown and continues to show our family,” says Blake. “We’re just thankful to be able to do it.”

The Kellys local shows usually sell out or come close to selling out, and the concert in Regina this year sold over 300 tickets.

“A big thank you to the communities for continuing to support us, and come and enjoy the show,” says Blake. “We also want to give a shout out to some of the other shows going on. I know Eli Barsi is doing some Christmas shows around the area and just get out and enjoy some of the sounds of Christmas.”

Blake adds that even when tickets sell out for their local shows, people who didn’t get a ticket are welcome to show up and pay at the door to get in. He says they will always be welcomed with open arms.

“As long as the people that are there go away happy and fulfilled and are a little bit more in the Christmas spirit, then our mission was accomplished.”