It started out like any Christmas morning in Charlotte Amalie with the sweet voices of the choirs awakening the town as they filed into Emancipation Garden to sing the morning into the day, the 40th year of the beloved tradition of the Challenge of the Carols.
But with an added twist this year – the addition of new, young faces and voices: the Carnival Kaleidoscope Christmas in Paradise group who had gathered at 4 a.m. at Market Square to tramp to the garden for their first official appearance.
The group 4 V.I. Girls had the audience at hello, or at Merry Christmas, with their bright red attire and enthusiasm bouncing and weaving from side to side. Descending the stairs at the gazebo in the garden, Tara Lewis McFarlane was asked how long they had practiced. With a laugh, she said, “We just did!” The group is nothing, if not spirited.
Veteran of many a Christmas challenge, Yvette Finch stood like a mother hen, smiling over her chicks. The girls had, at the last minute, recruited Finch as choir director. “It’s passing the torch to the younger generation to carry on the tradition,” Finch said
McFarlane said that’s their goal and their ambition. They are off to a great start with full support of the challenge elders.
The Voice of Love swayed into the garden in bright green sweatshirts led by Glenn “Kwabena” Davis with tambourines backing the voices. Always the same, always reassuring. You know it’s Christmas from the familiar faces, the familiar choirs, the Party Hardy group with their crisp
white shirts and plaid ties, and the Salvation Army all suited up and bells ringing.
It’s a special homecoming, with folks greeting each other while sharing an early morning breakfast. You’d think they hadn’t seen one another in years.
It’s the same feeling, year after year.
“Why, they are amazing,” said Skip Gaynor, “It’s really a great event.” Gaynor, with his family, was visiting his sister, Sue DeVilliers, long time St. Thomas resident and a familiar face at the Sea Chest for years. “Our Christmas in St. Thomas is different from Ohio,” DeVilliers remarked.
The Challenge of the Carols is steeped in tradition. In 1899, Luther Robles founded the Excelsior Choir, which soon included names familiar to the local caroling world today: Alec Lloyd, Esther Marks and Elias Abraham.
The celebration has its stalwarts, without whom the morning would be sadly bereft:
The late Rufus Vanterpool had recalled that before he was old enough to be allowed to stay up late on Christmas Eve, he knew of the tradition. Youngsters would go to bed, arise at midnight, dress and go caroling with the grownups. Choirs were formed in every neighborhood, singing all night long from house to house, as they do today.
It has been a well-loved tradition for so many years, even the old timers can’t say how long. The carolers go out on Christmas Eve and continue all night, bringing song and cheer from house to house, winding up at Emancipation Garden.
With an eye to carrying on that tradition, the Kaleidoscope Christmas singers appeared this morning as an answer to a prayer.
“We are all getting older,” said Finch. “We are passing on to them our experience. We are 100 percent behind them. They are more equipped, more than willing. They want to give back to the community; that’s what’s so wonderful about them, a sense of community. I’d venture to say next year we will twice as many as today.”
That’s a lot. The group had more than 30 today and the energy and passion of at least 60.
This year’s masters of ceremonies were Vernon Finch and Sen. Myron Jackson.
Honors included the Esther Mark Award to Addelita Cancryn Jr. High School Choir; the Alexander “Alleck” Lloyd Award to Merry Caroliers; the Luther Robles Award to VIPA Crown Bay Facility; the Governor’s Award to Tutu Park Mall; Honorable Choir Conductor Award to Lorna Freeman; and the Spirit of the “Christmas Card to Mrs. Bernice Jackson.
Choirs participating included Bethel Baptist Choir; C.K. Chorale; Church of God of Prophecy; Carnival Kaleidoscope Christmas in Paradise; Haspless, Hopeless Caroliers; Merry Caroliers; Party Hardy Carolers; Louisa McSween-poetry; Salvation Army Songsters & Torchbearers;
Voices of Love; and Yolanda Thomas.