Reviving carolling, a dying Christmas tradition
At 5 a.m., the Rose Mount Gardens community in Montego Bay was quiet, pitch dark, and distinctive. The only evidence of life was the carollers, with their candles flickering, signalling a welcome to another Christmas Day.
Now in its eighth year, the residents have revived this traditional Christmas musical activity of singing carols in their communities. And though small in numbers, their voices were enough to fill the pre-dawn silence.
The only other audible sounds were the dogs that barked while greeting them.
But carolling within communities is a dying ritual with fewer older members of the society around to participate in the tradition. Crime has driven fear into the minds of residents who are forced to remain indoors, and young people prefer partying on Christmas Eve to hearing the word of the Lord.
“Christmas has become so commercialised we have forgotten the reason for it, which is the coming of Christ into the world. Those of us who grew up in the rural parts appreciate it,” said Berl Hylton, past president of the Rose Mount Gardens Citizens Association, who led the singing of more than 30 songs throughout the morning.
While they harmoniously belted out the words to Joy to the World and completed the stanza to Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Hylton stressed that many of the communities had become fearful but that Rose Mount Gardens was blessed to be able to continue the tradition.
Hylton is, however, concerned that enough youngsters in the community have not embraced the annual event. “Our young people are more in a celebratory mood, buying, eating, and frolicking,” he lamented.
Officiating the programme for the first time, Reverend Carl Miller, pastor of the Montego Bay Church of the Nazarene, reminisced on his early years in Manchester where the practice was part of their cultural tradition. He said the spirit of Christmas is about salvation and peace, and carolling depicted this.
A custom founded on the principles of the Catholics, the carol service originally started after midnight Mass. The Catholics would go out early in the morning after Christmas Eve and sing carols.
The idea is to create a mystique in keeping with the message that the angels brought. The people would hear the singing and would not know who because traditionally, too, the carollers used to cover their heads. “They would be heard singing in the morning, but their faces would not be seen,” explained Sharon Earle, who sang to her heart’s content, serenading her neighbours.
By 6:30 at the break of dawn, Away in a Manger, Silver Bells, and Silent Night faded away.