Carolers spread tidings of the season


A group of men, women and children sang the old familiar Christmas carols through Uniontown Saturday evening, walking in the footsteps of three generations of community carolers.

It has been at least 65 years since a Methodist church pastor first led singers through the community of 19th- and early 20th-century homes that occupies a mile-long stretch of Uniontown Road west of Westminster.

The yuletide tradition has been uninterrupted for 27 years.

The tradition began with the late Rev. John Hoch, who led community caroling early on Christmas morning. "We always went at 5 a.m. and let me tell you, it was cold. But there was something magical about it," recalled Uniontown resident Dottie Fritz, Hoch's daughter. "You'd walk and you'd see the morning star. That kind of pepped us up."

Fritz remembers climbing into a pickup truck to go caroling one Christmas morning in a snowstorm. She remembers one faithful caroler who overslept one Christmas morning -- as the singers reached her house, the woman threw open her window and shouted, "Wait for me!"

After Hoch's death in 1961, caroling became sporadic. In 1969, Uniontown Improvement Association, the event's current sponsor, took over.

The association decided the Saturday before Christmas was a more convenient time for caroling than the holiday morning, said Barbara Childs, who organized this year's event.

Attendance has been as high as 200 and as low as 20; about 25 to 30 carolers turned out Saturday night. The cold weather was less a factor in the low turnout than the flu that has swept through the county in the past several weeks, carolers said.

Childs remembers several years when wind cut through winter coats and forced carolers to shorten their trek. Saturday night's temperatures, in the 20s without wind, was pronounced "not too bad" by Childs.

Libby Corbin, a Uniontown native who has lived in Mayberry for 43 years, occasionally returns to her hometown for the annual Christmas caroling. Sometimes the competition from television makes it difficult for the carolers, she said.

"In some ways, television has been a bad thing. You can stand there and sing your heart out, and they don't even know you're here," she said.

Some, however, have made it a point to come out onto their porches and greet the carolers.

David Bennett, president of Uniontown Improvement Association, said hearing the community carolers is "the high point of Christmas."

Uniontown's carolers always meet at the big holly tree trimmed in white lights opposite the Methodist church. "Jingle Bells" or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are always sung by the children.

The singers always gather after caroling in Uniontown Academy, a former school preserved as a community center.

They always start the caroling with "O Christmas Tree." It's a tradition.

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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