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Challenge of the Carols Heralds Christmas Day

Dec. 25, 2007 – Hours after the last chorus had rung out from the St. Thomas Reformed Church Christmas Eve service, Charlotte Amalie was once again filled with song as the traditional carolers marched into Emancipation Garden for the 31st Challenge of the Carols.
At 5:30 Christmas morning, a little too early for the sun to have broken through, the carolers arrived at Emancipation Garden dressed in bright costumes – the yellow and red sweatshirts of the proverbial Voices of Love, the Party Hardy Caroliers in white with the bright red plaid scarves. Fresh as though they'd just stepped out of a bandbox, the choristers had been singing for their supper all night. Bed was still a long way off.
Glenn "Kwabena" Davis, traditional Christmas bearer and leader of the popular Voices of Love, says. "The old-time tradition was fading during the late 1930s and during the war, but in the in mid 1970s Vernon Finch, Dorothy Elskoe and I brought the event back to life."
In 1899 Luther Robles founded the Excelsior Choir, to be followed by names that are familiar in the local caroling world today: Alec Lloyd, Esther Marks and Elias Abraham. According to Davis, the carolers would be greeted by gifts of guavaberry, dumb bread, and ham and sweetbread.
Continuing years of tradition, Monday morning the garden was fairly bursting with song, warmth, good feeling and good food "This tastes great. It'll keep me going," said Voices of Love singer Clarice Kuntz, enjoying the traditional sustenance, which is shared with the community by members of the Carols Planning Committee.
As the sun peeked through the colorfully decorated lignum vitae trees, people poured into the garden to sit on benches, on the grass, or to take their favorite spots on the round center wall.
Among first-timers this year was a delegation from Frenchtown. Betsy Sheehan, Jill Anderson, Doug Metzger and Suzie and Ken Husky had walked to the park, which was lighted by the abundant Christmas lights, at 5:30 a.m. to hear, if not clearly see, the first carolers file into the garden.
Sheehan, owner of the late Betsy's Bar, was delighted. "I've never been able to come before, because I used to close the bar so late," she said. "It's just so pretty, watching the sun come up behind the choirs." The Huskeys live on a boat in Frenchtown. "We love this," Ken Huskey said, "We just might make this a tradition if we can manage to get up at 4:30 again."
Anderson joined in. "It's just beautiful," she said. Pointing across the park, she added, "And, look, there's the governor right here." Gov. John deJongh Jr. strolled through the crowd stopping to chat with just about everybody. He was officially there to present former Tourism Director Leona Bryant with the Governor's Award.
"Unofficially," dejongh said, "I'm enjoying myself. I love this. Community is what it's about."
Presenting her with the the award, a gold cup about half as tall as Bryant, deJongh said, "This lady is part of our tourism – past, present and future. She is a part of our tradition, part of our culture. Think of the cruise ships, the airlines, the hotels she has worked to bring to the territory." He paused, "We have a lady of elegance."
Bryant's name is synonymous with tourism in the Virgin Islands. She was tourism director from 1981 to 1996, and for the following eight years she hosted the afternoon "Leona" talk show on WVWI Radio.
Bryant was modest about her accomplishments, with brief thank yous, for which she received a healthy round of applause. As a light rain began to fall, Bryant expressed the characteristic optimism that has been her trademark. "Don't leave," she cautioned the crowd. "This rain is a little blessing."
As she turned to leave the stage, she glanced up at a gorgeous rainbow just formed. Stopping in her tracks, she said, with a big smile, "You see, I said it was a blessing. The rainbow is telling everyone to get up and come out."
Perched next to Addie Ottley, in front of the Channel 12 cameras, Bryant shared a few words before the ceremony.
"I'm a little astonished at the award," she said, quickly adding, "but, happily so." Bryant said she was delighted at the size of the crowd. "It dwindled for a few years, but now people are coming back," she said. She couldn't remember how many Christmas mornings she has spent in the park.
"Well, I was born in 1928, and I came here as a child."
She commented on some uninvited guest pigeons. "I've noticed a flock of them flying over every so often this morning," she said. "as though they're enjoying the music, too."
The ceremony had a few other unscheduled guests, too. Hugo Petersen had his harmonica humming and the crowd's feet tapping to a few tunes, and the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School choir performed carols.
But, Richard "Mousie" Howard had the crowd in the palm of his hand as the tall, lanky musician opened his arms wide and launched into song, followed by a flute medley of "Greensleeeves," "Ave Maria" and "The Christmas Song." Howard, a well-loved community personality, was grinning from ear to ear as, leaving the stage, he was surrounded by old friends and well-wishers.
This year's honors:
– The Esther Marks Award to the Salvation Army Songsters and Torchbearers;
– The Allick Lloyd Award to the Harmony Rangers;
– The Luther Robles Award to Ewart H. and Gwendolyn Harley; and
– The Honorable Choir Conductor for 2007 went to Jeanette A. Rhymer.
Participating in the Carol Challenge were the Voices of Love, Bethel Baptist Church Choir, Guardian Angels, Party Hardy Carolieres, Hapless Hopeless Caroliers, Lucinda Millin Home Chorale, Merry Carolers, Salvation Army Songsters and Torch Bearers and the New School of Music and Nicole Joseph.

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