Last weekend we organized a big caroling outing in our neighborhood. Now, Christmas Caroling at nursing homes and hospitals is a wonderful activity: warm and organized, with a captive audience. But I like the idea of boosting neighborliness. Even though it’s intimidating. I realized, as we started walking down the street, that I hadn’t expected that we would actually do it. Like I’d planned this event to show all of my friends how Christmas-spirited and fun I was, but I hadn’t really processed that people would actually show up. I was so nervous that I even had a hard time singing at the beginning. I guess I was afraid that (a) the children would hate it and they’d start moaning and carrying on as if it were a Death March, or (b) the neighbors would be impatient or even mildly irritated with the interruption. But the kids loved it. They were really into it. And the neighbors ranged from awkwardly tolerant (teenaged boys) to effusively grateful (little old ladies).
Got friends and family around? Here’s how to try some Neighborhood Caroling (from my vast experience of doing it once):
- Invite way more people that you’d like to come, because this is not everyone’s cup of tea. Unless it turns out that your friends are just more fun than mine.
- Ask people to bring bells, Rudolph noses, antlers, etc. I had expected that this would be a way to entice the kids into enthusiasm, but I think that it really got the grown-ups into the spirit, too. Besides, it gives tacit permission to the dad who’s got a Santa suit to put that bad boy on!—ugh, that sounded creepier and dirtier than I meant it to.
- Gather up some lyrics. They sell songbooks, or you can Google lyrics up. But, if you do that, read them over, because they’re likely to have mistakes, like ours did, which is confusing. Keep to standards the non-reading kids are likely to know. And only print a couple of verses. Because your neighbors don’t have the patience for all of Good King Wenceslas, even if it is a nice story.
- Bring flashlights if there’s even a remote chance that you’ll keep going into the dusk. Too obvious, you say? We didn’t have them.
- Make a note of non-Christmas specific songs for those neighbors who don’t do Christmas. Jingle bells or Winter Wonderland work, and chances are that your school-age children will know some Hannukah tunes even if you don’t.
- Bundle up, but don’t worry about the cold. I thought we’d be freezing in 20-degree weather, but the combination of activity, possibly nerves, and the group made it downright cozy. And the kids were running around like maniacs, so of course they weren’t cold.
- Establish a base of operations. We told everyone that they could always run to our house for the bathroom or to warm up. Not many folks did, but it’s nice to know you can. Circle the base so you’re never too far away if possible.
- Before you get started, explain to the kids that they have to wait until a grown-up tells them to ring the bell. We were walking on narrowly cleared sidewalks, so at the beginning, the kids would run ahead and ring the doorbell while half of the group was still too far away to be heard. So people would open the door and wonder, what is this cheerful but unruly mob planning?
- Sing as you walk from house to house. It keeps everyone chipper, and there’s no rule that your neighbors need to hear a complete song, especially when it’s The Twelve Days of Christmas. They’ve got heating bills, too, you know.
- Stop when enthusiasm just begins to wane. You’re makin’ memories, people! And whiney kids don’t carol well, anyway.
- Have a slow cooker filled with cocoa or cider, with optional adult add-ins if you’d like, waiting at your base of operations.
Phew! And today is my final gathering of the season–the Third Annual Little Girls Party, in which I cover a gaggle of girls with glue and glitter, pump them up with overstimulating baked goods, and send them home to their parents with a Merry Christmas to all!