Start new caroling traditions

December 22, 2020

Caroling is a symbol of community that once was a wildly popular holiday tradition but has largely fallen by the wayside. According to the Pew Research Center, about 16 percent of Americans reported caroling in 2017. However, this once-beloved tradition can be brought back with vigor.

History of caroling
Caroling evolved from the practice of wassailing. The word “wassail” is derived from the Old Norse phrase “ves heill,” which translates to “be well and in good health.” As early as the 13th century, people in England would travel between houses to go wassailing and wish their neighbors well during the winter months. In some places, the word “wassail” referred to a hot and thick spiced beverage given to travelers to help them stay warm. It is the precursor to modern-day mulled wines, cider and eggnog.

Caroling largely remained separate from Christmas until Saint Francis of Assisi incorporated similar well wishes and songs into his Christmas services. Music was embraced as part of liturgical services during the holiday season.

Caroling today
Many caroling sessions now take place inside of churches or schools as part of choral performances. However, with social distancing limitations in place, it may be the ideal time to once again implement door-to-door caroling. This can help bring cheer to people who may be missing loved ones who can’t travel, and may even buoy the spirits of those who have been spending more time alone in their homes.

These tips can make caroling more successful.

• Find someone with some musical knowledge to guide the group. While everyone needn’t be the next star singer, it helps if one person can help keep the group in time and in tune.

• Choose familiar songs. Select a body of music that is familiar to all. Songs such as “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” “Deck the Halls,” and “The 12 Days of Christmas” are easily recognizable. The more familiar the song, the easier it is for carolers to follow the tune. Have roughly 10 songs and rotate as needed when visiting homes.

• Map out your course. Caroling can take place over several days as carolers visit various parts of their communities. A caroling session may last about an hour or two.

• Dress for weather. Layer clothing and agree on some festive trimmings that unite the caroling group. Wear comfortable shoes for walking.

• Advertise your intentions. Let others know that carolers will be stopping by on particular dates so they can come out on their front porches or doorsteps. Follow social distancing guidelines if necessary and urge spectators to avoid congregating too closely in one place.