From its origins in wassailing, mumming and Christmas Waits, caroling has become an established holiday tradition. In the Middle Ages, peasants went to the feudal manor to sing songs for spirits and cakes, and later, mummers performed short plays or sang songs from house to house in exchange for food or money. When the practice of hiring professional musicians who doubled as night watchmen was abolished in the early 1800s, small groups of amateurs took over during the holiday season, singing their way around town for tips. With a little planning, you can host a caroling party that combines the best of historic and contemporary celebrations.
Time, Date and the Guest List
When you start compiling your guest list, there’s a temptation to focus on the singing ability of friends and family, but it really doesn’t matter if Cousin Fred couldn’t carry the proverbial tune in a bucket. With a large group, there will be enough people on key to carry the rest, and the spirit of the season will make up for the rest. Invite people who will enjoy one another’s company. If you are inviting children to the party, select a weekend evening unless school has ended for the winter break. Set out late enough to avoid disturbing evening meals for those to whom you sing, but make sure you’re singing early enough that you aren’t awakening those with early bedtimes.
Invite guests as early as possible to avoid scheduling conflicts. Suggest that guests dress to reflect the season, or you could provide a Santa hat for each guest as a memento. Select about five to 10 well-known holiday songs, print the lyrics for everyone and laminate the sheets to protect them from damp weather. If you have the time, bind the sheets between two pieces of red or green cardstock tied with curling ribbon. Use a gold or silver pen to write “Caroling Party” and the year on the front, leaving a space to add a group photo to create a songbook and party favor in one. If you are planning a party for an organization, club or church group, make some signs or banners to identify the group.
Choosing Your Venue
If you are caroling in a neighborhood, map out a route that will circle back to your starting point, making sure to include elderly or homebound neighbors who would welcome the visit especially. Another option is to go to a nursing home or a hospital and carol through the halls; be sure that you have permission from the administration first, of course. For those with limited mobility, consider a “drive-by” caroling event, in which you drive to fire and police stations to sing through open vehicle windows or, with the approval of the directors, set up in the local mall parking lot for an hour.
On the evening of the party, provide some light snacks, such as cheese and crackers or crudites, for noshing while waiting for everyone to arrive. Distribute flashlights, glow sticks and reflective tape to ensure guests’ safety. Tuck some hard candy in your pockets for tired throats along the route, and encourage guests to use jingle bells, kazoos, drumsticks and other rhythm instruments to accompany the singing. Expand the joy of the season by giving signed holiday cards or ornaments to those you visit.
After-Party Wrap Up
When you’ve returned to your starting point, end the evening with food and fellowship to warm both the body and the soul. A hearty soup or stew with warm, crusty bread will chase the chills, and no winter party is complete without hot cocoa or mulled cider. A few holiday cookes will round out the table perfectly.