The Mystery of the Disappearing Carolers

What every happened to neighborhood Christmas carolers? When I was a kid, Christmas always meant clutches of strolling neighborhood singers stopping outside your house at night to joyfully belt out a holiday tune that always made you feel so darned good right before you cranked up the TV because they were interrupting Hawaii Five-O.

Ah, carolers. They used to be such a big part of Christmas. We used to get so many caroling groups outside our house, that by December 23rd my family was capable of enjoying an entire meal in the pitch dark that came from us closing all our curtains and snapping off our lights, because it’s not like you can’t hear them coming. But, as everyone knows, carolers are as tenacious as hyenas. I remember being in awe of some carolers’ will-do attitude, as they steadfastly stood outside our house, singing their hearts out with a raucous gusto that at once communicated, “Merry Christmas!” and “We know you’re in there! We saw you turn your lights out!”

I used to hope that competing caroling groups would bump into each other, so that a caroling turf war would break out. I imagined cups of hot chocolate flying everywhere, people being being beaten with rolled-up song sheets, mittens and caps sailing through the air.

Cops arriving, the blinking, whirling blue and red lights atop their cars looking festive yet heart-attack inducing.

Me being interviewed on local TV.

“I saw the whole thing,” I’d say. “It was horrible. I was innocently standing right here on my lawn with this slingshot, when all of a sudden the joyful caroling turned into wails of bloodlust. It was awful. And yet, before I could drag my sister out here in the hopes of someone clocking her with a mug, it was over. Christmas carolers are dangerous menaces to society who must be stopped right after they accidentally hit my sister on the head with a coffee mug.”

But the point is: What happened to the tradition of Christmas carolers? Where’d they go? I used to love the idea of going Christmas caroling. True, the reality of going Christmas caroling never quite jingled my bells. But that’s mainly because I’m apparently somehow constitutionally incapable of remembering the words to any Christmas carol except Jingle Bells. So I’m always stuck belting out things like:

Good King Winksalot looked out

At the feet of Stephen

Then the snow was all about

Deeply, crispy Steven.

Tightly moans the moon at night

Though it’s not in schoo-ol

Willy Wonka is a fright

Carrying his winter coo-oo-ler

Just the worst. Plus, while making up lyrics I always noticed my fellow carolers giving me the evil eye. Like they know all the lyrics. That’s when I usually started silently mouthing the lyrics, the better to hear them failing. But glaring at your fellow carolers while pretending to sing is only fun for about ten or fifteen songs. Then it’s back to rolling my r’s in Little Drummer Boy so dramatically that I practically choke to death on my own tongue.

And every time I caroled I somehow always managed to end up standing right in front of that special person who’s in every caroling group: the one who mistook “Hey, everyone, let’s go out Christmas caroling!” with “Hey, everyone, let’s go audition for the Metropolitan Opera!” You know those people? Who think it’s their moral obligation to drown out everyone else’s inferior voice with the redeeming power of their own deafening pipes? People who articulate the heck out of every carol—and usually do so with an English accent they somehow suddenly acquired?

Actually, I envy those people. I know I’d sing just like them if my attempting to do so didn’t make dogs grind their teeth.

Anyway, I sure do miss that great tradition of wandering around in the freezing dark singing Christmas songs in the hopes that someone will eventually come out of their house and feed you.

On the other hand there’s no denying that it’s also nice not to get randomly jabbed in the thigh or arm with a fork while you’re huddled in the dark with your family beneath the dining table, trying to eat while hiding from Christmas carolers. So, you know. It’s important to look on the bright side of things, too.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Pat Hux via Facebook

    LOL

  • http://anziulewicz.livejournal.com Chuck Anziulewicz

    I agree, John: Caroling is a festive yet unfortunately slowly dying tradition. But the Charleston Gay Men’s Chorale (article here: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/Entertainment/201212120312), to which I belong, recently went out Christmas caroling for a couple of hours. We roamed around one of Charleston’s more upscale neighborhoods, looking for homes where we saw people inside, and we would just burst into song. People were thrilled, parents brought their kids out on the porch to listen to us, and on a couple of occasions we hit the jackpot, as all the guests at a Christmas party would stream outside to hear us. We had a wonderful time; of course, the Scotch didn’t hurt, either.

  • Vanda Law via Facebook

    Ditto!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathleen.isabell Kathleen M Isabell via Facebook

    My strategy @ Halloween, too. Those kids at the door? The dogs barking? I don’t hear a thing. Bwahahaha. As I crouch in the dark with my chocolate.

  • lily

    Every year my high school friends and I would go caroling. This was back in the mid to late 70s. We had so much fun. And we were so cute, too! Then back to my house for snacks and exchanging gifts. Ahh…the good ole days.

  • Jan Chaple Johnson via Facebook

    I live in an apartment complex for seniors. The main doors to each building are locked – so NO carolers & NO trick-or-treaters.

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      Well, unless you want to go caroling with your neighbors. :D

    • Babs

      Isn’t that illegal to lock the main doors?

  • Allie

    I used to carol with a group who went in medieval clothing. Every year after caroling we had a rented room at a nice restaurant where we would go for dinner. One year the waiter told us that the party in the room next to ours had asked if we would come over and sing a song for them. It turned out to be a gypsy wedding. Most fun ever!

  • Paul Scheuer via Facebook

    My wife and I are going caroling tonight with a group made up of local choristers. We go every year and have a blast and the reactions we get from people we visit are priceless. It truly is a dying custom.

  • mike moore

    I remember carolers … whenever they would get close to our home, my Dad would tell our houseman to close the gates and release the hounds (seriously.)

    • JenellYB

      Thinking about it, maybe that’s why, growing up down here in Texas, I never remember seeing carolers going door to door except on tv. Chances of people wandering up and down streets and into people’s yards would have been at pretty high risk of getting dog bit.

  • Song

    Bwahahahahaha! I just settled down for a long winter’s nap, but decided to read your blog first and then drift off with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. But.not.now.!! Refrains of “Good King Winksalot” will be lulling me to sleep instead! Thank you! I love that song!

  • Paula Coplan via Facebook

    I remember caroling with you guys! It was such fun! Miss those days! Merry Christmas

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    Paula! Merry Christmas!!

  • Jeannie

    I miss caroling. I still wander around the house singing Christmas carols all the time. My kids are pretty good sports about it.

  • Stacy

    After reading this to my son (who is 8 and has a great sense of humor) he immediately began to roll his r’s in The Drummer Boy and sounds as if he is swallowing his tongue. Spit is flying everywhere and he is just cracking himself up. Cheers John and fellow followers. Merry Christmas!

  • Virginia Galloway

    I sing with the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass choir at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, and we still carol for the lighting of the University’s Christmas tree every year, which we call “Deck the Mall.” Don’t like singing outside much because of the distinct possibility of inhaling a bug (it was about 70F when we did this Tuesday of this week), and my choir director has a morbid obsession with the foul “Ding, Dong, Merrily on High” from which he will not be dissuaded, but at least we keep the tradition alive each year.

  • JenellYB

    Interesting how as we remember something we shared with others in childhood, as a tradition, so easily feels as if it must have been tradition everywhere. Not so, to any of my memories growing up in Texas. I would see it on tv, merry little groups going door to door singing carols, being handed hot cocoa and cookies by appreciative residents. Never saw it in ‘real life’, though. The closest to that were a few times I remember, some in choir groups at a church or sometimes a choir class at school would go perform at places like a nursing home, or in the lobby of one of the larger city hospitals, or a local shopping center or mall. But I never saw any door to door kind of caroling, or heard of it done, except on tv.

  • https://elizabeth-fullerton.squarespace.com/resume Elizabeth

    My parents were in the Presbyterian choir, and I was in the children’s choir. I was the kid who took ‘sing to the back of the room’ too literally and probably drowned out everyone else. 10-20 of us caroled. To be fair, the houses we visited were all friends or fellow church-goers; they knew we were coming. It was fun! And also how I discovered my favorites, like “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” are all in minor keys. They were the same folks who had alcoholic beverages standing by for trick-or-treat chaperones.

    That was thirty years ago. I’ve never seen roving bands of carolers since.

  • Roger K Newton

    Still hanging on in Britain. If it is money the carollers are raising, it is usually pubs or bars that are targeted. Our group goes and sings for 2 hours outside the local supermarket and also go door to door, handing out mince pies and leaflets about services in the local churches over Christmas. Don’t get many people hiding when they know there is free food in the offing!


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