TERRYVILLE - A few dozen people experienced an Old English Christmas in an old New England town Sunday.
St. Paul Lutheran Church on Main Street welcomed composer Peter Griggs, a world traveler who performed traditional Moorish ballads and Wassailing songs.
As self-described “soft-spoken New Yorker,” Griggs accompanied his guitar playing with singing Sunday. He alternated each piece with brief anecdotes about its origin.
Attendees hummed along to the familiar tune of “Greensleeves” and were captivated by more unusual selections like “Gloucestershire Wassail” and “The old year now away is fled.”
The scent of cinnamon and clove permeated the building, as members brewed traditional wassail for the occasion. A hot mulled cider, the drink is served at English social gatherings and drank as a ritual to ensure a good harvest the following year.
Griggs told the audience how an Old English Christmas has always been a merry celebration.
“Wassailing is essentially carol singing,” he said. “A group would go from house to house and sing a song in exchange for a glass of beer or a piece of cheese.”
In rural England, specific hymns colored the Christmas season to ensure fertility the following planting season.
Griggs, who currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., lived in Dusseldorf, Germany for more than a decade.
Coincidentally, St. Paul’s was founded by German immigrants. Its membership continues to be mainly German and Swedish families to this day.
“The German heritage is really strong in the congregation,” pastor Kimberly Wadhams said.
An Englishman, Wad-hams was anxious to hear some music traditional to his own background Sunday.
“Back then, the minstrels were really the newsmen of the day,” he pointed out. “They would use the same melody but change the lyric to present the news.”
Griggs performs a variety of styles.
“As a guitarist I’ve explored the whole range,” he said. “The earliest published guitar is from the 1500s. This concert is a little unusual because it’s focusing on the traditions of the Twelfth Night.”
In addition to the guitar, Griggs also played the laud, a 12-string folk lute.
It wasn’t the musician’s first visit to the area.
“My family is from the Waterbury and Tolland area,” he explained. “Several generations back have lived around here.”
Celebrating its 125th anniversary, the congregation has not had a permanent pastor in over a year.
“The Lutheran church is short on clergy,” member A.J. Brauer said. “Pastor Kim has been filling in the last few months. I think it’s made us a stronger congregation,” he added. “It forces people to step up and help out.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.