Tis the season for caroling. Singing together in joy and attempted harmony. I grew up with this idea, singing alongside my brothers and sisters. Two neighboring Catholic families joined together. Our family of six kids, plus theirs, ten kids strong. A gathering filled up our houses, especially if spouses and friends joined in, which happened in the later years.
Christmas Eve always felt special. We dressed up with festive jewelry, had good food, and plenty to drink. After a couple of hours of visiting, first at our house and then at theirs, we assembled, rehearsed a few verses of a popular Christmas song, and put on our jackets to brave the 50 °F night. That’s winter in Southern California, and it never interfered with our mission to take our singing to the streets and carol around our block.
In one big blustering mass, we puffed up our chests and belted out Christmas tunes, lucky to hit notes singing the same words. La la la and humming came in handy. We traveled from house to house, surging and merry, barely able to contain ourselves. Oh, how everyone enjoyed our goodwill gesture! We sang a maximum of three songs, carefully selected between each house, alternating the slow Silent Night with a peppy Jingle Bells.
After about thirty houses we concluded our masterful hymns at our neighbors, the Painter’s. They had lived in the neighborhood the longest and had a full acre yard, even a few roosters. They received us with smiles and, without fail, presented us with a box of See’s Candy after what was always our last song, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. It felt like a reward.
I don’t quite remember what then happened with that box of candy, if we shared it or not. I must have got at least one piece. It didn’t really matter. The appearance of the black and white See’s Candy box left me a blubbering mess of joyful tears. Oh, they cared, they cared…or maybe it was out of sympathy. It always made feel a little high on life. We did some good in the world. We used our voices, however out of tune. Whatever their reason, it made the season all the more merry and bright.
Following the presentation of the candy box, our two families parted ways to attend midnight mass. My family to the Sears catalog, minimalist church a few blocks from our house. We usually walked if we weren’t running too late. Our friends drove to their more formal, taller, stain-glassed church a few miles away.
This tradition of ours continued for a least a decade or more. My memory is fuzzy about this. Sure, things changed over the years. The group lost shape and focus, although growing in numbers with more friends, with some family members straggling behind. Tis the season to be jolly, filled with spirits, too inebriated to participate fully.
Our neighbors began to sing the third verses in harmony, complete harmony I tell you, and assumed the front stage position at the door, while those less dedicated mouthed the words in the back. It became slightly more serious and falling apart all at once, squeezed from the middle until it just burst into nothing. One year we simply stopped. At least that’s how I remember it.
I wondered if the Painters waited up for us with the box of chocolates ready.
I almost wanted to walk over to explain, “I guess we don’t do this anymore.” Did they miss us? Did they wonder for a couple of years, as I did, if we would return? It was a good time while it lasted and, for me, it never lost its kick or exuberance.
So, grab a friend and sing together a little holiday song. It will make you smile. Do you have any caroling favorites?