As a child in Girl Scouts we always went to the local nursing homes and sang carols. We never stopped by some unknown home and sang. No group ever showed up unexpectedly at our home singing holiday songs. Yet Christmas movies always show a group arriving to sing at “regular” homes. It always seemed like one of those things that I should do that would make Christmas perfect, arrive unexpectedly at someone’s home and sign carols to them. A surprise gift to strangers.
When we lived in the city and bought our first home, I finally decided to try caroling strangers with a group of friends. I planned this from months. It is one of my favorite Christmas memories.
First I headed to the music store . In those days there were three music stores in downtown where I worked. They were full of sheet music, instruments and one had two sound rooms where lessons were given. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted, but I thought we should all know the words of the songs we were going to sing. I didn’t just want two songs, other wise it would get boring fast. I didn’t figure we needed the music as most of us knew the melodies. So here I am asking for some kind of lyric sheet for Christmas carols, no music necessary at a music store. Evidentially I was not the only one who wanted such, they stocked a large folded sheet of paper with lyrics, no music for 48 Christmas carols. The best is that it was on five cents each. I got them.
I then planned who I would invite. Since I had never done this and had no idea how my turn out would be. I invited friends who could sing and friends who I know only gave car concerts. I invited tons of people. We ended up three or four car loads every year.
As folks we arrive and we would warm up trying out songs, and people suggest their favorites. There was always a real singer in the bunch who wanted to give us the pitch before we started, not that I knew what pitch was nor could sing on key. We decided that a home would get two songs. The first one would vary using some of our best and finish with We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Once we had the logistics of how the caroling was going to work it was on to selecting our neighborhood.
Everyone made suggested about what neighborhood we might travel to. We usually went to an older neighborhood in city, BrynMawr, Linden Hills, Armtage, or Lowery Hill. Neighborhoods were named after a local grade school, park, or early notable citizen. Often it was where one of the carolers grew up. If their folks or grandparents still lived their more the better. We thought that if we caroled homes and it seemed a little strange, it was a good thing if someone in our crew could say “Hi Mrs. Olsen. It is Patty Larson who used to live down the street.” Location decided we filled up cars and head to our destination.
Once in our neighborhood for the night we would pick a house to start at and move down the block singing away at the top of our lungs. Volume counted, being on key not so much. We quickly learned to knock or ring the bell other wise the first carol was done by the time some one showed up. Sometimes the only person home was elderly man or lady and they were so moved, we’d break our two song rule and do a third carol. Occasionally, just like on TV, someone would have a tray of cookies like they were expecting their impromptu choir. Rarely folks would peak out, but never open the door. Once it appeared that the 4 children were home alone, and knew they should not open the door, but were in awe looking out the front window trying to see what was going on. Our group tromped over and stood in front of the picture window and sang Frosty the Snowman complete with dramatic interpretation. One of the funniest moments in all the years, was the year a young couple came to the door to listen, and just was we finished our first carol a cat turned up. When we had finished our last note, the cat let out a perfect Meow. This was the height of the Meow Mix jingle. Without discussion our group suddenly sang the jingle to the cat. What a lot of laughs that would give us.
Afterwards we would head back to our place to kibitz and nosh. It was fun to hear how differently and what were the memorable details of the night to my friends over cookies and hors d’oeuvres. It was a rewarding experience for our group of carolers to get out sing some our favorite carols. I hope we brought some unexpected joy to others. Our annual caroling party continued annually until we moved.