The same songs sung in England in 1848 will echo in the streets of Glen Rock again on Christmas Eve, as the 50 members of the Glen Rock Carolers welcome Christmas Day and the sunrise with the sound of their singing.
"It's a tradition that has never been broken in 165 years," said Darryl Engler.
Carrying canes and wearing top hats, scarves and capes that look like costumes for Charles Dickens characters, the men begin at the square at midnight and walk through the streets for the next seven hours, covering the entire town.
Every year they sing the same 14 songs, said Engler.
How it started: It all began in 1848 when four men who had moved from England -- Mark Radcliff, Charles Heathcoate, George Shaw and James Heathcote -- serenaded Glen Rock residents with carols from their hometowns
of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire.
"You probably wouldn't know the songs unless you're from the upper north-central part of England," he said. "Or if you're from Glen Rock."
Engler has been the group's director for the past 29 years and has been a member of the group since 1971.
Someone has to die or ask to be inactive before the group takes in a new member, but an associate member list allows men to learn the parts by rote, which means standing next to a member and learning by repetition.
The longest someone has been on the waiting list to join was 14 years, said Engler.
Longtime members: Eight members have been singing for more than 50 Christmases, he said.
There are a lot of myths about the Glen Rock Carolers, he said. It is not true that you have to be born in Glen Rock or even to live in Glen Rock, said Engler.
"The one that is also not true is that you have to have a relative in the group," he said. "But I would say that of the 50 guys, about 48 are related to some other guy -- grandfathers, uncles, brothers.
"You bring the people that are related to you," Engler said. "It is sort of by default that it is a lot of generations. They held the 2-year-old up at the window and, by the time they're old enough, they want to do it too."
Never canceled: The event has never been canceled for anything -- not even wars or weather, like in 2002, when 8 inches of snow covered the ground and the Glen Rock Carolers still carried on, explained Engler.
Practices are held on Sunday evenings, beginning on the first Sunday in November and continuing through Christmas.
People in Sheffield, England, still gather to sing the same songs, but not as an organized group like the Glen Rock Carolers, said Engler.
Engler said the group's historian, Charles Glatfelter, has been searching for a similar group for 35 years and has yet to find any.
"There is nothing like this in the United States or anywhere," Engler said.
The carolers will begin with an 11 p.m. warm-up concert Monday at Zion Lutheran Church in Glen Rock, and this year's president, Greg Smith, will give a speech before their walk begins.
"I've heard these songs since I was a child, so it reminds me of my earliest childhood memories of Christmas," said Smith, who has been a member for 14 years.
"I just enjoy every part of it," Smith said. "I knew the songs since my childhood, so when I went to my first rehearsal it was an unbelievable feeling to stand beside the fellows who have been doing it for 20, 40 or 50 years. And now to be president, it's just an honor."
At 7 a.m. on Christmas, the town gathers back at the tree in the square to hear the men sing the doxology -- which is Engler's favorite part.
"We've worked all night long from midnight until 7 a.m. in the cold, sleet and rain," said Engler. "We gather around the tree and our families have come out of the warm houses and meet up with us. You look around the group and you can see men are crying, because you realize with a group like this it's never going to be the same. Some will be missing next year. It's very emotional to sing that just as the sun's coming up."
-- Reach Chelsea Shank at 505-5432 or firstname.lastname@example.org