Those Pretty Little Christmas Songs: A Caroler’s Overview
As our Christmas caroling quartet strolls around the upscale shopping center in our Charles Dickens era attire, complete with top hats for the men and capes and muffs for the ladies, the shopping center employees seem genuinely thrilled to hear us singing “Deck the Halls”. They are so excited about seeing us that some even take their allotted fifteen minute breaks with the express purpose of coming out to hear us spread the good Christmas Spirit. One fellow enjoys our singing so much that he waves his arms to the meter of the tune and pretends to be the music director who is leading us. Several stores even specifically request that we come inside their retail centers, and they make a point of turning off the sound system so that our “Joy to the World” can spread its happiness throughout the entire store.
As the day begins to wind down, the fellow who operates the horse-drawn open carriage rides with Santa, offers to drive us around the parking area for free while we have fun singing the verses of “Jingle Bells” and come as close to experiencing “Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh” as our modern lifestyles will permit. After we finish singing “Jingle Bells”, we transition into “Silent Night” and are even proud that we can sing one of the verses in German. When our four hour shift is over, we decide to warm up with some hot chocolate from the coffee shop of the large bookstore that has been particularly pleased with our presence in our Victorian attire, and our spreading of the Christmas Cheer via costume and song. Everybody in the coffee area who has heard us, exclaims over how very heartwarming it is and we are left with the desire to emulate Good King Wenceslas and his bravery in taking provisions to the poor, even in the midst of a winter snow.
Those of us who have been Christmas caroling with our group for a few seasons, now discuss which carols are our favorites and which ones are lesser known, but to us are still very beautiful and fun to sing. One fellow really likes “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella”, and I am really fond of the light-hearted “I Saw Three Ships”. We also laugh at the lesser-known verse of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” that mentions bringing us a hasty pudding, or else. While we haven’t written PhD dissertations on the subject of Christmas carols, we consider ourselves self-proclaimed experts on the subject matter.
And “My goodness!” I think to myself. “I’ve definitely come a long way.” For when I was little, my brother and I were sitting in what used to be our mother’s bedroom on the second floor of my grandfather’s crumbling farmhouse in Northeast Ohio. We had spent our early childhood in Mexico City, and while we had attended the English-speaking churches there, somehow we hadn’t become conscious of all of these lovely Christmas melodies we were hearing, until now. While we were discussing these carols one day, my little brother even looked up at me and said, “You know those pretty little Christmas songs that they have?” And I responded with “Yes”, for I had noticed them, too, and was quite impressed. “I want to learn every one of them,” my brother commented. To which I responded with “Oh yes, I do too!” Thus, we began learning all of the favorites that we could find.
One of our favorite times to sing these new Christmas melodies we were learning was during the candlelight Christmas Eve service at our grandfather’s church. For he was the church organist, and even though we often lived far away, we frequently made it up to Ohio to visit him during Christmas time. We just felt that there was something magical about singing “Silent Night” when they turned out all of the lights, and the only illumination left was that of our small handheld candles and the soft glow produced by some of the golden-colored torches in the aisles—torches decorated with big velvety red bows.
Unfortunately, now when we attend the Christmas Eve services at various places, songs like “Away in a Manger” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” are pushed to the side and almost thrown in as an afterthought. Since our grandfather was the church organist and he delayed the big shift in church music for as long as he could, my brother and I didn’t realize that the Christmas carols that captured our imaginations so much that day when we were little, were already becoming quaint. I’m glad we didn’t know. And now, as I join in the camaraderie of the self-proclaimed experts on Christmas carols and sip some of my hot chocolate, I find myself very glad to be keeping company with others who have donned their mid-18th century style capes and muffs. For, to me, there is still something magical about “those pretty little Christmas songs.”
By Luisa Kay Reyes