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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, September 29, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesSerenade Offers No Rest for the Merry

Serenade Offers No Rest for the Merry

Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights rolled through town on a mobile stage during the Crucian Christmas Serenade.What was that about Sleepless Knights?

The neighborhoods of St. Croix were alive with the sound of quelbe and Christmas music Wednesday morning – from midnight till dawn – as Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights took their show on the road as part of the annual Crucian Christmas Serenade.

Bandleader Stanley Jacobs said his group has been participating in this tradition since they formed back in the 1970s, though he swears their name has nothing to do with the all-night tramp.

Jacobs said things back then were a bit different than today.

“Before we used to go up to the houses,” he recalled. “Of course it wasn’t as elaborate as this.”Revelers dance and play along with the music during the Crucian Christmas Serenade.

By “this” he was referring to a massive flatbed truck, tricked out with a wall of speakers and a generator large enough run a house. There was barely enough room for the band in the back, but they squeezed in with their instruments and played in a small circle in the middle.

Jacobs said it was a big departure from the days when the band carried their acoustic instruments on foot from house to house, but he was just happy the tradition was surviving in one form or another.

“All the old people say they remember it from when they were kids,” he said. “And now we’re the old people and we have to tell the kids about it.”

A whole generation of Virgin Islanders almost lost out on this tradition. The serenade was canceled for years around the turn of the century after the police broke up the tramp one year as a disturbance of the peace.

It was only six years ago that Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights started going out again, thanks to the efforts of WTJX.

The TV station’s chief operations officer, Tanya-Marie Singh, said that originally they only meant to recreate the parade once, as a way to document it, but it was so much fun they had to keep doing it.

Revelers stopped at house parties along the way to recharge their batteries with salt fish and bush tea.She said the station had more or less run out of angles to cover the event, so at this point it was really just a party. But still, she said, she feels like it meets the spirit of their public television mission.

“That’s our purpose: to bring cultural and historically relevant material to the Virgin Islands,” she said, adding that to bring it directly into the neighborhoods, albeit on a flatbed truck in the middle of the night, was the “definition of outreach.”

Certainly there haven’t been many complaints. Singh said the island was ready to see the tradition return.

“People were so happy, especially that first year when we brought it back,” she said. “Stanley’s music is Christmas. There’s no Christmas without them.”

As part of resurrecting the tradition, WTJX has worked closely with the police to ensure the tramp is never broken up again. Every year they’ve hosted the event, Officer Arthur Joseph has provided an escort and crowd control. Asked if he felt like he pulled the short straw with this overnight detail, he vehemently said no.Revelers march behind the band during the Crucian Christmas Serenade.

“I look forward to this every year,” he said. “It’s not really a job for me. It’s an opportunity to be part of something historical that’s been going on for years, way before I was born.”

Joseph also said that it was the part of Christmas fest he enjoyed the most. When he’s working other events during the festival, he doesn’t have much time to join in, but at this event, Joseph said, the crowd is so mellow and the surroundings so festive, he feels like he’s a part of the show. He even brought his own bells to play along with the band.

A little after midnight, the truck carrying the musicians pulled out of the WTJX parking lot followed by a long line of revelers trailing in their own cars. As the sounds of quelbe music filled the streets, many in their cars beat on their horns in rhythm with the music.

The caravan passed through Estate St. John, Clifton Hill, Flamboyant Gardens, Strawberry Estate, Peter’s Rest and Eliza’s Retreat. In each neighborhood, people roused from their beds when they heard the music coming and met the parade in their yards, wearing nightshirts and robes.

The party really got going when the caravan came to a halt at three homes along the route. WTJX coordinated with community members to open their homes to the revelers and offer them food and drink to keep them going through the night.

Kai Schjang said he and his family had been hosting the revelers for four or five years and were happy to open up their lawn to the party. Schjang said that normally he would join in the caravan afterward, but this year he had to be at work early. Still, he admitted, such concerns didn’t seem to be stopping many other people.

Asked why he thought so many people would pass up a good night’s sleep on a weekday to tramp across the island, he said it was just tradition.

“It’s something nice and calm. No huge crowd or anything. It should be a nice peaceful event for everybody to enjoy,” he said. “And nothing sounds better than this melody early in the morning.”

The caravan stayed strong till dawn when they made one last march from Market Square back to the WTJX studio. The revelers danced to one last number in the street, briefly blocking the road before allowing everyone else to get on with their morning commute.

Some of the revelers turned to join that commute themselves, no doubt stopping along the way to grab a quick cup of coffee.

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