Christiansted’s streets came alive Wednesday morning with the eclectic sounds of quelbe music, as Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights serenaded through town, playing their unique version of standard Christmas carols for their annual “Foreday” Serenade.
Despite the intermittent fits of rain, the Knights blared through neighborhoods, waking sleepy residents, who wandered out in pajamas to dance alongside the band as they sang “Joy to the World,” while bandleader Stanley Jacobs’ played the flute to the scratch band melodies. Whether a car was first or last in the 20-car procession, the music sounded the same, loud and festive.
For the first time ever, the V.I. Police Department’s new Commissioner, Henry W. White, Jr. joined the procession of cars, and was amazed at what he saw.
“This is just a really great tradition,” White said, smiling. “The fun part is watching the people come out of their houses while the band plays. I know it’s a cultural heritage and my philosophy falls alongside Officer Arthur Joseph’s to remain community oriented.”
Joseph donned his rain coat for part of the morning, and directed traffic as he smiled and hummed along with the music, “I live for this,” he said with excitement in his voice.
The serenade returned as a tradition in 2006, after a long hiatus of not performing. In 1992, the V.I. Police Department shut down the event due to a noise-ordinance violation; however, now, the police lead the procession, White said, to let the community know they are supported.
Shortly after 3 a.m., the procession left the parking lot of WTJX, Channel 12 in Golden Grove, and made its way through the Christiansted neighborhoods, stopping along the way in Estate St. John to eat breakfast at Lola Schjang’s house.
Schjang and her sisters, Melba and Zita, provided a huge breakfast for the partiers, as she has every year since serenading began again.
Residents throughout the neighborhood joined the group at around 4 a.m. to get a taste of the bountiful breakfast, which included Salt fish, crab salad, deviled eggs, bacon, cheese, and pork souse.
“This is just a tradition that we started a long time ago and I’m happy to do it,” Schjang said. “We started cooking at about 4 p.m. and just do some simple things it’s always so much fun.”
Schjang said the crowd gets bigger every year, but she just cooks more to accommodate them, and pointed out that she has the support of WTJX, which allows her to continue.
WTJX Director Osbert Potter and St. Croix Avis owner Rena Brodhurst revived the tradition, and the station has sponsored the growing Serenade ever since.
Verletta Booth, a former St. Croix resident, who was visiting Schjang from Michigan, said she loved the tradition and hopes that it always continues.
“It’s wonderful and everybody seems to get along very festively,” Booth said. “Every Christmas when I visit it seems that this gets everyone in the mood for the holidays.”
The truck carrying the Knights turned into a neighborhood, the big tarp sheltering it from the rain was lifted, and they drove slowly down the cramped streets playing each of their Christmas carol renditions.
Some residents greeted them with traditional Crucian drinks: bush tea, guvaberry, or homemade Coquito, the Puerto Rican coconut rum drink.
The group generally conducts two early morning tramps to allow both Frederiksted and Christiansted to enjoy the music. Tuesday, they began at the WTJX headquarters at 2 a.m. and worked west, ending up with a tramp and party in Buddhoe Park around 8 a.m.
The band made its final stretch into the town of Christiansted after sunrise, followed by a tramp to the Hendricks’ residence near the D.C. Canegata Ballpark from Fort Christiansvaern, where another big breakfast was served.
One thing was clear as they music rang out throughout the morning; the town was going to remain sleepless, just like the Knights.