This time of year, the image of carolers is as unescapable as the songs themselves. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Victorian style posters, greeting cards, and department store displays tease us with open mouth apple cheeked singers in festive clothing. You can almost hear the jingle bells and you may find yourself humming “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” But have you ever gone caroling?
By caroling, I don’t mean singing with the choir in a warm toasty venue. You can sing Christmas carols indoors and sound excellent, but unless you are outside, you aren’t caroling. Also, if the thermometer is above forty, you are not caroling. The visual depictions insist snow is a necessary part of the caroling experience. Global climate change decreased the likelihood of Christmas snow for much of the Northern hemisphere, but flurries are easy enough to find if you check the forecast first.
I have been caroling exactly once in my life. When I was fourteen, some friends — let’s call them Jenny, Lisa, and Nicki — and I got it in our heads that we needed to go caroling. None of us had ever sung door-to-door, although countless ad campaigns and window displays on Chicago’s State Street convinced us caroling was the normal holiday experience. Different desires motivated us. Maybe we wanted one last chance at our rapidly escaping youth. Maybe we wanted to don gay apparel. Maybe we wanted to spread good cheer. The firebugs among us may have wanted to burn things so much that even a candle would do. As for me, I wanted wassail, even though my fourteen-year-old self had no idea what wassail was. (FYI – it’s boozy spiced punch.)
After creating tinfoil candle holders to protect our hands and stuffing our pockets with spare candles, we ventured forth. An elderly couple opened the door at our first stop. We broke into “Jingle Bells” and followed up with “On the First Day of Christmas.” Our receptive audience seemed to want another song in spite of our questionable and unrehearsed harmony. After some debate, we settled on “Up on the Rooftop” since we’d performed it in school a few years prior. We forgot the words. The couple helped us out, thanked us, and closed the door. We moved to our next victim with the understanding that we knew the complete words to two and only two songs.
The wind blew, but we kept at least one candle lit at all times. People at house after house opened their doors and politely tolerated our poor singing as we spread our own version of holiday cheer. Some laughed. Some smiled. Some called in persons hiding in other rooms. One offered us hot chocolate and cookies. We had a terrific time. That so many people opened their doors to us in a time and place where no-one knew their neighbors made us happy. We received more joy that day than we gave.
Our picture perfect holiday came to an abrupt end. Somewhere around the fifteenth house, as we called four birds, the smiles on the faces of the people cozy inside the house disappeared. The couple’s eyes widened in terror and their mouths looked like hungry goldfish. We kept on singing. Finally, one uttered the words “her hair.” We stopped, glancing around at each other. Jenny’s red hair burned with a blue flame. We dropped our candles. I stomped out the remaining flames, Lisa slapped Jenny in the face with a fluffy white mitten, and Nicki threw snow at Jenny.
We returned to Nicki’s house, donning our singed apparel as the aroma of burnt hair surrounded us. After trimming Jenny’s hair, we swore never to go caroling again.
If you are hearty — or foolish or desperate enough for wassail — to go caroling, here are my tips:
1. Use flashlights or glow sticks, not candles.
2. Put on festive attire and practical footwear.
3. Decide on songs before you start. Make a lyric sheet if necessary.
4. Bring your own wassail.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tale. When I wrote the Christmas Day scenes for my Crimson Romance, Winter Fairy, I included caroling because I can’t imagine Christmas without singing. If you’d like to know more about the history of caroling and Christmas, please visit my personal blog at http://lolakarns.wordpress.com/blog/.