Christmas caroling is one of those traditions that is embraced more in theory than in practice. We love seeing a group of happy carolers in a Hallmark movie or a department store display, but what if they knocked on our front door? Would we welcome the interruption or see it as presumptuous, an inconvenient delay shoved in our faces by neighborhood weirdos who might not even sing that well?
A 2013 Pew study reported that while 36 percent of Americans remembered going Christmas caroling as a child, only 16 percent had gone caroling as adults. Five years later, that number is probably even lower. Communal singing is something Americans don’t do much anymore, not even in church, as congregational singing has, in many churches, given way to highly-produced, performance-oriented worship.
That is to our cultural impoverishment. To sing together is to come together in a uniquely human way—a way that is outwardly-directed, focused on building community, rather than inner-directed, aimed at personal catharsis and self-expression.
Studies have shown that when people sing together in a choir, their breathing and heart rates begin to synchronize. That same kind of synchronization happens in other ways as well, as those who sing together share not only in a physical experience but in a mental and emotional one as they unite around a single message.
Christian musician and songwriter Keith Getty has described singing, particularly congregational singing, as a “radical witness.” For a Christian, there is no better time than Christmas to take the radical step of engaging in some communal singing that testifies to the faith you hold dear.
There is also nothing better than a Christmas singalong for getting even the shyest singers to move their mouths and vocal chords a little. If you’re feeling inspired to do some caroling this year, here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Turn the caroling into a party. Send out some festive invitations to entice your fellow singers, and plan for some fellowship and tasty refreshments afterward. Here are a few recipes to consider.
Plan where you will go. You might visit nursing homes, hospitals, or those who are homebound. Check with your fellow carolers to see if they have family or friends they would like to sing for. Let those you plan to visit know you are coming. That way you won’t make an unnecessary trip.
Practice. Pick out a handful of songs and gather a little in advance of the caroling to go over those songs together. You don’t have to memorize all the words. This website has a number of public domain carols for free printing. Make sure you print both words and notes so that those who want to sing harmony will have music to follow!
It’s wonderful to go caroling at hospitals and nursing homes, but don’t rule out caroling in your neighborhood. In a time in which it seems increasingly difficult to make connections with the people in our neighborhoods, doing so is more important than ever.
Casey Chalk recently wrote about the opportunities Halloween affords for meeting one’s neighbors. Christmas caroling is another way to do the same thing. You might be surprised to discover how much people appreciate it. Last year, when we did our customary caroling in our neighborhood, one of our neighbors set up a table with tablecloth in her front yard and served us hot cocoa and snacks, not on paper plates, but fine china. Another neighbor rewarded our singing with a $100 donation to our church.
Christmas caroling as it is generally practiced today traces its roots to the Victorian era. But communal singing goes back much further than that. The advent of recording technology has been both a blessing and a curse in making all kinds of music more universally accessible, while discouraging individual practice of music due to the ease with which we can simply push a button and have it played for us.
As our society becomes ever more disconnected and people increasingly isolated, we need to look for ways to connect in non-technological, human ways. Do something crazy this Christmas. Get together with a few friends and sing.