Spread Holiday Cheer with Kids: Go Caroling in Your Neighborhood
by Katie Beltramo
Holidays can seem like an endless barrage of consumption. But you can make the season more meaningful by reclaiming the 500-year-old tradition of Christmas caroling.
Neighborhood caroling is uncommon these days, so you might not know what to expect. Cheri, a mom of two who joined our caroling outing last year, admitted, “I thought that we’d just walk along the street singing. Instead we rang doorbells like trick-or-treaters, and everyone was happy to see us. It was surprisingly fun.” Try it, and you’ll find that singing with your family, friends, and neighbors outside is the perfect antidote to modern overindulgence.
Cast a wide net. Choose an early evening start time for maximum flexibility, and invite double or triple the number of people that you’d generally ask to a party. Holidays are busy, and caroling just isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. A large, unwieldy group is preferable to a scattered few. It’s more festive, and tentative (or off-key!) singers blend in better with a crowd.
Plan simple refreshments. Hot cider, soups or a potluck are easy options. Carolers will get chilly and hungry, so provide fuss-free foods or drinks that they can serve themselves. A slow cooker or a pot of hot soup that cools to “just right” while you are out singing is ideal.
Accessorize. Since dusk falls early, ask people to bring flashlights and reflective clothing. Encourage jingle bells, reindeer antlers, Santa hats. . . anything merry will help set the mood. Last year, one of the dads surprised us in a Santa suit. It had been in the back of his closet, just waiting for an appropriate occasion.
Prepare on the cheap. Songbooks are an investment, so search for lyrics on internet sites like christmas-carols.net, christmas-carol-words.com, and xmasfun.com/lyrics.asp. Select several standard tunes with choruses that kids will know. Identify non-Christmas selections ("Jingle Bells," "Winter Wonderland," "The Dreidel Song," or "Celebrate the Feast of Lights" ) for neighbors with different (or undetermined) traditions. Once you’ve made your choices, copy songs into a document—two or three verses of each song are plenty—and review the entire collection for errors. Finally, number the pages and staple them for easy reference.
Make your house “home base” for carolers. If no grown-up wants to stay inside, print signs to help guests locate facilities and enjoy refreshments. Double check supplies of necessities like toilet paper and spoons, and post your cell phone number. Plan a caroling route that circles your house to make pit stops convenient.
Layer for warmth, but don’t worry about the cold. We have caroled in 20-degree weather and felt downright cozy. The kids will be excited and active, and the combination of singing and walking with a group keeps the chill at bay.
Establish firm ground rules. You don't want the kids to become an unruly mob stampeding porches with abandon, so review rules before you head out. Explain where to gather (say, the sidewalk next to the porch), how they will take turns ringing the doorbell (possibly age order, youngest walker first), and what songs will be sung. Remind kids that they must wait for the group to gather and an adult to signal that everyone is ready before a doorbell is pressed.
Stop when enthusiasm just begins to wane. Forcing anyone to participate is no fun, and whiny kids don’t carol well. Experienced parents sense the shift in child group dynamics like a change in barometric pressure. When that happens, sing one last song and head for home. Leave everyone wanting more and they will remember the outing fondly, like my friend Cheri. “It really went so much better than I expected,” she mused. “We’re doing it again this year, right?”
© 2012, Katie Beltramo Katie Beltramo, a mother of two, is Editor of KidsOutAndAbout.com Albany and blogs at Capital District Fun.