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PAB carolers spread the Christmas spirit

Julia Walters at home with her children, Charlotte and Alex. — © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter PORT AUX BASQUES — In the heart of the holiday season, Port aux Basques resonates with a timeless tradition, echoing the words from ‘Elf’: “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” Local residents are embodying this festive spirit through their passionate engagement in Christmas caroling, a practice deeply rooted in history. Originally, Christmas caroling began with songs sung during the winter solstice’s pagan celebrations, marking the year’s shortest day, typically around December 21st or 22nd. These early pagan songs were later replaced by Christian hymns as early Christians adapted the winter solstice into Christmas. Unlike today’s familiar tunes like “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bells,” these early carols were in Latin, including well-known ones like ‘Hymn of the Angels’ or ‘Gloria in Excelsis’. The transformation of caroling into its modern form began with St. Francis of Assisi’s nativity plays in Italy around 1223. These plays introduced new carols that gradually spread across Europe. By the 1400s, English carols emerged, notably contributed by John Audelay, an English priest and poet. Audelay’s hymns, though focused more on repentance, played a key role in evolving the tradition. However, the tradition faced challenges. In the early 1600s, Puritans in England briefly outlawed public Christmas caroling, but the practice persisted clandestinely and resurged with the decline of Puritan power. The 19th century saw a revival, especially with the efforts of William Sandys and Davis Gilbert, who collected and published carols from various English villages, including now-classic carols like ‘We Saw Three Ships’ and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. This rich heritage is has been revitalized in Port aux Basques, and took off again during the challenging times of the pandemic. Julia Walters, a local resident and schoolteacher, spearheaded this revival. “Somebody that works at the manor, I believe, had posted on Facebook, they thought that carolers outside the building would be nice for the people living in the manor and was anyone willing to organize it, so I jumped on it,” said Julia Walters. “They just made, a post, a general one. I had seen it shared, so I just shared it myself. I asked, ‘would anyone like to get together and do this?’ And I had 40 comments, lots of people interested in doing it. So it didn’t work out for the manor. We ended up not being able to do it there, but on that night, when we realized we couldn’t go there, we decided to just go over to the hospital. So we go around outside the apartments, pretty much each one, and we also stop into the long-term care, like outside the window.” The group continues to grow. “We always say, ‘oh, we’ll do Rudolph now, or we’ll do Jingle Bells now,’ usually we let the kids that come choose,” said Walters. “There’s mostly a lot of people from school, a lot of teachers will come with their kids and their close friends they usually invite, so it is typically the same crew, but I’ve had new people express interest this year.” They usually carol for an hour and there is no requirement saying you have to be a good singer in order to get involved, but Walters herself has quite the singing voice. “I used to do the music teaching at the elementary school and I taught music in Isle aux Morts as well,” said Walters. “One year I did take my choir at the elementary school, caroling on my street, and then we came back here and we had hot chocolate and stuff like that, and that was like ten years ago.” The point of the group is to help spread a little Christmas cheer to their community, and they hope they’ve been able to achieve that. “For me it’s just, well, we’ve always been going to the apartments by the hospital, it’s certainly be nice to go other places. I don’t know if that’ll be organized this year, though, maybe next year. We haven’t done the streets because it was mostly about bringing Christmas cheer.” During the COVID-19 pandemic and protocols, it was understandable and actually mandated that the carolers had to remain outside in order to properly social distance, but the idea of singing for people inside is something the group is thinking about. “Maybe this year we could get inside. I’m not sure, I haven’t ever really spoken to the hospital about it. It’s just something I create an event on Facebook and people come,” said Walters. “We usually have about 20 to 30 carolers, though we didn’t do it last Christmas because Alex (her son) ended up in hospital. It was the same night, the same week we were supposed to have it. So I was in Corner Brook that week, but the year before we had, let’s say 35. I’m just estimating, though, I’m not sure.” This year, Walters hopes those numbers stay consistent. “I hope we get a lot. The event has between 25 and 30 people either coming or interested, but I invited a ton of people and I’ve had lots of people say to me, “I know, I’ll see you at caroling,’ or whatever, and the Rec House, I believe, is going to have some treats for after caroling. They’re working with me this year,” said Walters. “So they’re going to have a little something for afterwards, which will be nice.” In this season of giving and joy, the carolers of Port aux Basques remind us of the enduring power of music and community in celebrating and sharing the spirit of Christmas.

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