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HomeNewsArchivesSleepless In Serenade Have Long Tradition To Uphold

Sleepless In Serenade Have Long Tradition To Uphold

Dec. 25, 2008 — It was a cool, breezy night Wednesday, with a thin, wide crescent moon just rising in the east as Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights fired up their truck and. began their "foreday" morning's traditional Serenade, slowly journeying west while playing their uniquely Crucian quelbe take on many of the standard Christmas carols.
The merry, brightly lit truck moved through the neighborhoods, filling the air with the bright, happy music of Stanley Jacobs’ flute laying Christmas melodies on top of rolling scratch band rhythms out into the streets. Some folks peeped out their windows, stood on their balcony’s and porches, and watched the band go by, then went back to sleep. Others came out onto their lawns, dancing in the moonlight to the rhythm of Caribbean Christmas carols.
As the serenade proceeded, police cars with blinking blue lights preceding and tailing, it grew a long tail of cars snaking behind, honking their horns to the band’s rhythm. The growing procession stopped at several houses along the route, playing an extended set, while the households filled plates of hot breakfast and cups of cold guavaberry rum. Cars pulled to the side of the road, passengers hopping out and joining the folks coming out of the houses to dance in the street.
At the Williams' home, Sharon and Inez Marie Byron Williams served up steaming ladles of sweet, spiced cornmeal pap, oatmeal or cream of wheat, along with platters of homemade sweet bread, dishes of smoked herring and tuna, and bowls of souse with hot, pickley broth.
"When I was a child we would always put out breakfast for everyone; some hot cornmeal pap, sweet bread, souse and herring," Sharon Williams said.
Many Crucians have fond childhood memories of Serenade.
"This is a tradition that goes way back," said Gloria Joseph of St. Croix. "From early December to Christmas, bands would come serenading. Not just Stanley, but the Simmonds Brothers, Blinky, Joe Parris and the Hot Shots; they would all serenade.
"And there would be masqueraders, going from door to door, wearing masks, wearing horns, banging pots, singing and dancing."
People would come out in their pajamas, not getting dressed, Joseph said. And many of the revelers — even those following the procession in their cars — wore pajamas Wednesday.
Some traditions have fallen by the wayside.
"I recall they came to my grandmother's house every year and they always had a man dressed as a bull, with another man leading him on a chain," said former agriculture commissioner Arthur Petersen, explaining it was a practice dating back to slave times, subtly digging at the plantation owners.
"We'd hide from the masqueraders," he said. "Parents would tell us if we misbehave, they will make the masqueraders come and they will snatch us up in a sack and take us away."
Petersen remembers it being a bigger, more universal event decades ago.
"It used to be every house would have food and drink," he said. "And the band would be paid with guavaberry (rum). " Guavaberry is a major culinary Christmas tradition on St. Croix that goes way back too.
"Every year, we'd take a jimmy john, a big jug, and put the guavaberry and rum in it, and put the jimmy john under the bed, not touching it for a year, until the following Christmas, then bring it out," Petersen said.
People have their own special traditions too. Raymond Williams, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis, poured guavaberry into guests cups while clad in a gold paper crown and satin robe.
"I wear this crown in memory of my dad, who was king of the Senior Citizen's Ball 15 years ago," Williams said. "I keep my jimmy john of guavaberry and drink it from this old enamel cup every year. "
If you missed the Christmas Eve serenade, Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights will be serenading eastward Christmas morning, starting in the area of Harbor View Apartments, working east through Richmond, through the town of Christiansted to around the area of Schooner Bay Market. Afterwards there will be a jam session and breakfast at the WTJX headquarters in Richmond.
On Jan. 6, the band will serenade one last time for the season, starting at 5 a.m. at Bassin Triangle, working through town to the Christian "Shan" Hendricks Vegetable Market, with the annual Cruzo-Rican Breakfast to follow. The serenade is in memory of the late George "Bagoon" O'Reilly, who recently passed away.
Stanley's serenade returned as a tradition in 2006 after a long hiatus. In 1992 the police stopped the music after some noise complaints from new arrivals to the island. The Knights serenaded from the early 1970’s to 1992, but the tradition of Serenade on St. Croix goes back well over a century and possibly much longer. It harkens ultimately back to a thousand year old tradition of serenading and caroling around Christmastime. In most places those traditions have faded away or are only faint shadows of their former importance. Here they have thrived a century longer and many uniquely Caribbean and Crucian elements have been added, from the style of music and the types of food and drink to playing during the earliest, ‘foreday hours of 3 to 5 a.m.
This revival came about after a casual conversation between St. Croix Avis owner Rena Brodhurst and public television WTJX Channel 12 Director Osbert Potter, and the station has sponsored the Serenade each of the past three years.
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