Growing up in a small rural town in North Carolina, I remember vividly the closeness of the community and how people really did treat everyone like family. One way they always showed their concern for the sick and the elderly was to bring them a special treat at Christmas: caroling!
You have to remember that this is a place where your nearest neighbor might live half a mile away – if you lived in a busy part of town! While such spacious living did have its advantages, one downside was that it could be very isolating for “shut-ins,” those that because of illness or age were unable to venture out.
Luckily this was a place where people were not forgotten, especially at Christmastime. So one chilly Saturday in December, many of the families gather to spread some holiday cheer with some good old-fashioned caroling. While this is done in many places, here is a peek at how this community organizes it.
Acts of Kindness: Caroling for the Sick and Elderly
Each year they visit a number of homes where the residents are sick or elderly and so could use some good cheer from their neighbors. Because of the cold (and the condition of those they are visiting), they keep each visit short, singing 3-4 songs as the recipient watches from their front porch. As there are always children among the carolers, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a perennial favorite, as are “Silent Night” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”
When the songs are over, they call out their well wishes and move on, without expectation of receiving anything in return.
Instead, they organize among themselves a progressive dinner, which they enjoy in between caroling stops. At the beginning of the night, they gather at the home of our former neighbors – and dear friends – for appetizers. After a few caroling visits, they continue to another home for the main course, before ending up at a third house at the end of the evening for dessert and a longer visit. My mother jokes that it is amazing that for people who see each other everyday, they always have lots to talk about!
The children, of course, rush upstairs to the toy room, while the adults enjoy each other’s company until late in the evening. Though my parents moved away years ago, they still make the trip back for caroling as often as they can, and I remember fondly the year I was able to join them! It was such a warm, festive atmosphere, despite the cold, and it was especially heart-warming to see what joy it brought to those we sang to.
Tips on Caroling with Kids
Now we live with our little ones on the other side of the country, but I am trying to recreate this joyful experience with my children by caroling at a local retirement center. I asked a good friend of mine for tips about successful caroling with kids, which I am sharing them with you below. She is a smart lady, so these are definitely worth noting!
- Practice ahead of time: Ideally you will have time to practice together as a group, but if not, at least make sure everyone has the lyrics to practice at home
- Keep it short: Though it is tempting as adults to want to pull out all the stops and sing all of our old favorites, that is an easy way to lose children’s attention – especially if they are songs they are not familiar with (see #3 below). Keep it short and snappy, so that you end while everyone is still paying attention and enjoying themselves. For young kids, 3 or perhaps 4 songs are plenty.
- Sing songs they know: Make things simple by choosing songs they are already familiar with. Not only will it be easier to teach them the lyrics, they will have lots of fun singing their holiday favorites. For us, this would be “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph,” and “Frosty the Snowman.”
- Bring props: Keep things fun by giving the kids some instruments to play – jingle bells are perfect! Not all kids will want to sing in front of strangers, but most will enjoy shaking jingle bells.
- Limit the number of houses: Again, keep it short and simple. If you are caroling in a neighborhood, 3-4 houses is a good number for preschoolers. You may be able to fit in a few more for older children, but try not to stretch them too much, especially considering the cold weather!
- End with some hot chocolate and treats! Finish things off on a high note by giving them some yummy treats. This can also be a good motivator when their spirits start to flag, plus it ensures a positive finish no matter what happens during the caroling!
Have you taken your kids caroling? Share your tips in the comments!