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Churches team for a Christmas tradition

AN OLD TRADITION — Members of several Follansbee area churches went Christmas caroling through much of the city, making stops outside the Follansbee United Methodist Church and other sites on Friday evening. -- Warren Scott

FOLLANSBEE — Members of several Follansbee area churches teamed up on Friday night to carry on a Christmas tradition dating back many years.

The group of about 20 made their way from the corner of Main Street and Mark Avenue to Mahan Playground near the south end, making stops at churches, the Ray Stoaks Plaza and other sites to perform several songs at a time, before meeting at St. Anthony Catholic Church for hot chocolate and cookies at the end.

Mayor David Velegol Jr., who was among the carolers, said the idea sprung from the Praise in the Park event held at Follansbee Park this summer by many of the churches.

In its fourth year, it included live Christian music, free food and activities for children.

The group of carolers represented various ages, from teens to seniors, so the experience was a new one for some but very familiar to others.

The Rev. Joe Cuomo, pastor of the Christian Assembly of Follansbee, recalled caroling on Hooverson Heights with fellow members of the Seneca Tribe 4-H club when he was about 13 years old.

“It was a wonderful time — the hot chocolate, the marshmallows and basically, the fellowship,” he said.

Though it’s less common today, Christmas caroling was very popular in 19th Century England, familiar to many people through Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Like many Christmas customs, caroling has roots among ancient Pagans, who sang and danced in a circle to celebrate the Winter Solstice. It’s said the word ‘carol’ comes from either the French ‘carole’ or Latin ‘carula,’ both ancient words for circle.

As Christianity spread, the singing of hymns became common at church services and plays.

Records of people strolling along streets while singing hymns and other holiday music date back hundreds of years to many countries, from Ukraine to the Philippines.

The Rev. Jude Perera, the priest at St. Anthony Catholic Church, said caroling is still common in his home country of Sri Lanka, though he is accustomed to a warmer temperature, “usually around the 70s,” than on Friday night.

He said the carols often are performed there by church youth groups and serve an important role of bringing Christians together and spreading Christmas cheer, as they do here.

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