“Let’s go caroling,” Dorothy said, and it sounded like a swell idea to us. We had a group already. We got together every month or so to sing madrigals.
Not that we sounded all that good. Dorothy was an A-1 soprano, sweet and true and lacking that bellicose vibrato that would get a lot of sopranos swatted if they weren’t so scary. The rest of us were of a lesser grade. We had one voice for every part including first and second soprano, and at least you could tell which of us belonged where, because we usually drew inside the lines of our ranges, although some of us scribbled. It was a lot of fun to get together and do all the fa-la-la and hey-nonny-nonny: a lot like a recorder group, in that it was way more fun to be in than to listen to.
We scavenged some other volunteers and we met at Dorothy’s apartment in NW Portland. There was some discussion concerning how to go about this thing. This was forty years ago, and yet caroling was already old-fashioned by then, and we weren’t sure if there were rules. Finally we decided to go up to the first house we saw and ring the doorbell. We didn’t want to seem disorganized, so we agreed on a carol and the number of verses, first. We rang the doorbell.
“Just a minute,” came a forlorn baritone, followed by shuffling sounds, and doors banging shut, and locks opening, and finally a large, morose, unshaven man appeared at the front door, still working his way into some scuffs, and clutching a bathrobe shut with one hand. Oh boy, we thought. The first recipient of our cheer! And off we went into Joy To The World, in four-part harmony, our bright holiday mufflers wrapped tight, our wool caps jaunty, as the night chill ruffled his leg hairs. Heaven and nature sang, and sang, and sang, and then danged if The Lord didn’t go right on and rule the world with truth and grace; our victim sagged visibly; in reconstructed memory, the man grew shorter and shorter and may have sprouted a thermometer; he was approaching panic as we repeated the sounding joy, and repeated, and repeated it; what were you supposed to do with carolers? Somewhere in his childhood pre-Depression memory he was certain there was a protocol, his mother would have known, there was supposed to be mulled wine, or baskets of cookies to dispense, but isn’t just this kind of thing the reason he’d gotten a place by himself in the middle of the city? The ghost of gratitude flickered on his face as we appeared to be winding up, but no, we had a plan, and no mutineers; we finished up with We Wish You A Merry Christmas, complete with the good tidings to him and his kin, which were not strictly necessary, and we bid him adieu.
Well. That left something to be desired. It wasn’t at all clear that any joy had been transmitted. We amended our plans to merely loiter outside the next house and not knock at all. We decked the halls, or something. Fingers pulled the Venetian blinds slats apart and then shut again. We decided to just walk down the sidewalk and sing as loud as we could. One carol after another. It was fine. After all, people had had TV for decades by that time. Nobody could be expected to know what to do with an authentic caroling assault. Then we came upon one of those U-shaped courtyard apartments that prevailed in that quarter of town. We walked into the center of the courtyard and we Had At It. We Let Fly.
Hallelujah! Relieved of sole responsibility for properly appreciating unsolicited carolers, people opened their windows. Leaned out. First floor, second floor, third. Smiled. Clapped. Gave thumbs up. Joined in. The acoustics were tremendous: we sounded good, and not just Dorothy. One or two residents were crocked enough to invite us all in for some version of a toddy. We declined, but it was nice to be asked. Hey nonny, nonny, it was nice.
Bless your operatic hearts! Glad that Christmas Dorothy could be there as Christmas Carol couldn't make it and I hope no one was roasted on an open fire afterward. As long as you didn't deck the halls with Buddy Holly and slept in heavenly peas it sounded like a lot of awkward fun.
Oh shoot. Chipmunks Roasting On An Open Fire is one of my favorites.
Gods! You can't go wrong with a good acoustic!
If you happen to have a copy of The Deeper Meaning of Liff, you can look up "fulking."
I don't, and what now?
If all else fails, email me.
Oh, alright, to save others from asking. Fulking…pretending not to be in when the carol singers call.
I think I know what the first two letters stand for.
pretending not to be in is something I do all the time. I have a friend in another flat closer to the main road and when doorknockers are on their way around he lets me know so I can close the curtains and turn off the lights. now I know what it is called. I'm a Fulker.
What an excellent day. No carollers here. And indeed I have never heard them.
NO! That's not good! We will come and carol at you!
Aha, another Scrooge here. Pleased to meetcha!
Well, I'm a Scrooge when it comes to non-classic Christmas music. In fact, my least favorite genre is anybody's Christmas album. Anybody's.
I like the oldies. No Bing Crosby here!
I was once a caroler when I was a teen. People seemed happy enough to listen to us, but that was a long, long time ago in the small town I grew up in.
And they knew they'd run into you later.
I'm unable to sing well, so usually limit my efforts to the inside of my home. I've only ever seen carollers in old movies. and the Salvation Army Band that used to play and sing on street corners around this time of year when I was very young. No one does it anymore, which is a shame.
I'm looking for a group…the other thing I love and don't hear often enough is a brass band on the corner.
I would LOVE to be a caroler, but I can't sing!!
You'd've fit right in.
I can sing purty good, used to be a soprano a long time ago, but I've never had an opportunity to carol. Nor have I ever been caroled at, more's the pity.
We had a group of real good singers down the street a few years back. They caroled at us and we invited them in and we all caroled some more. It was GREAT.
I have a tendency to forget the lyrics in the 3rd and 12th verses and substitute some inappropriate sound-alikes. Just learned these are called mondegreens. If you like that sort of folderol, I’m in.
You JUST learned mondegreen? One of the classics is "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy."
I know I've gone caroling a few times in my life but I can’t remember the details. I think we just sang people out of their houses. Thsnks for your memories.
Out the back door?
I've BEEN that man, except for the "man" part, and the scuffs and bathrobe part — standing shivering in the draft while my house grows cold, with a sickly smile pasted on my white lips!! I think caroling is funner for the carolers than the carolees . . . and I think these days as a caroler I'd probably destroy the ambiance by hacking up a bronchial lung in the cold air . . .
You're as cute as a button in that picture. (And that IS a compliment. I like buttons a lot.)
Everybody likes buttons. I think I got a short haircut soon after that and they kept it short until I was a teenager and suddenly had to look like Patti Boyd.
The absolute best place to carol your heart out is in a seniors-only apartment building. Dear lord, they loved us every year we went a'strolling. Nursing homes are great too because your audience can't escape.
Yup, that's standard! They might be able to cut free during Twelve Days Of Christmas (and there'd be plenty of motivation) but you're right, they're slow.
Went with my orchestra friends one year when we were 12 or so, I think. We wanted money, plain and simple. I was on violin, as was Loretta, and Lisa played the flute. Not everyone gave us something, but those who did were very generous, and we got asked in to one place that was having a Christmas party and we played for everyone. I had totally forgotten that until now. Thanks, Murr!
Wow, were you strolling the streets with a violin?
Cannot carry a tune with a bucket over my head, but I do remember in Junior High caroling with our church before Christmas. I really enjoyed it, but we also just walked around and stopped in front of houses.
It's much kinder, these days.
Murr, is it possible that the apt of which you write was at 1811 NW Couch? Red, courtyard, etc? We were living there at that time, I was finishing up a cardio fellowship up on the hill.
It's quite possible, although it was at night, I don't remember what color the bricks were, and there are a lot of courtyard apts in the area. I'll bet you were the toddy guy.
There's a brilliant short story in this, about the man in the bathrobe, who after you left, went and tore up the last will and testament he'd been writing, removed the rope from the beam in the ceiling, and called his son and told him he loved him.
I love this a whole lot.
This sounds an awful lot like a Christmas-themed "Agape Mission" that the Youth Hostel Club would do in the late 1960s……Do you remember that? If someone was feeling blue or down, they would be abruptly and unexpectedly visited by Club members who were happy, smiling, and a little loud.
Six years ago my 94 year old MIL had carolers come to her home unexpectedly and it thrilled her to no end. She referred to it as cheer for "the shut-ins". Just two weeks ago a group came to my dad's home-it was raining like crazy-hard rain, thick, big drops. Terrible weather, messy as hell. They sang two songs, and then ended with We Wish you a Merry Christmas. Both of us were really touched and grateful. Sometimes it works!