When I was a little girl, my mother organized caroling and a party on Christmas Eve. We sang our way around the block in Washington D.C. We were met with universal delight. Those were magical times.
My Ex-Stepmother carried on the tradition in the suburbs of D.C. and then New England.
Until I dated a guy from rural Tennessee over the holiday season, I never thought some people might find caroling…odd.
“You trespass on people’s property while singing?” Tennessee Guy asked incredulously. “That’s a good way to get a dog set on ya. Or a shotgun.” He shook his head over the foolishness of city folk.
A few of my California boyfriends also thought caroling was weird. My future husband, Andy, was a Chinese-American from Hawaii. He’d never been caroling. On the other hand, he watched a ton of TV. When I introduced him to caroling in snowy New Hampshire, he only shrugged and said, “Sure. So long as there’s alcohol, I’m game.”
Other spouses who married into our family tradition added their singing voices to ours without murmur.
Until Baby Brother brought a native New Yorker to my sister’s house in central Virginia. Nominally Jewish Girlfriend’s first Christmas with us had already been an adventure. We adult siblings outfitted her with her first stocking. The nieces and nephews pummeled the crap out her with Nerf bullets. She bore it all with good grace.
Until she found out about the Christmas caroling.
“You go to strangers’ houses. And knock on their doors and announce that you’re going to sing?” she asked.
“We know some of the neighbors,” Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister told her.
“And we don’t announce that we’re singing,” Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister added. “We just start singing as soon as soon as we ring the doorbell and we know someone is there.”
“So you don’t know half these people and you just start singing, whether they want it or not. What if they slam the door in your face?” asked the New Yorker.
We white Anglo-Saxon Protestantish siblings exchanged looks and shook our heads. “Never happens.”
“Seriously never?” The native New Yorker was floored. “No one has ever told you to fuck off, even? I mean, what if they’re Jewish? Or Muslim?”
“Well, we’re a bunch of atheists,” I reminded her. “But we’re not completely insensitive. We look for Christmas lights and decorations first.”
Andy handed Nominally Jewish Girlfriend a glass of eggnog. “Here. This’ll help.”
Nominally Jewish tossed back her drink and said, “I’m gonna need something stronger. I mean, what if they throw eggs?”
“No one throws anything, I promise,” I said with an encouraging smile. “But yeah, it seemed weird to my old boyfriend from Tennessee. He never understood why we’d risk dogs and shotguns.”
“Wait. Isn’t Tennessee just one state over?! Are we risking getting the dogs set on us? For real?!” Nominally Jewish Girlfriend’s voice went up an octave.
Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister glared at me before turning her most soothing doctor voice on Nominally Jewish Girlfriend: “This is a college town. No one sets dogs on anyone.”
Baby Brother said, “You can bring a Nerf gun if it’ll make you feel better, though.”
Nominally Jewish Girlfriend gave Baby Brother an “I’ll use the Nerf gun on you and aim low” look.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “I’ll trip Baby Brother and the dogs will go for him first.”
After another drink, Nominally Jewish Girlfriend agreed to give caroling a go. She giggled nervously as we bundled up and lit candles. She kept giggling as we approached the first house.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this. Please tell me they don’t have guns. Or dogs,” she begged Baby Brother as First Niece rang the doorbell.
We began to sing: “Silent night, holy night…”
One dog barked. Then another. The porch light went on.
Nominally Jewish Girlfriend pressed her hand to her mouth and tugged on Baby Brother’s sleeve. “Dogs! Let’s go,” she hissed.
The main door opened. Behind the glass storm door, an older couple in red sweaters looked at us in confusion. Then the man smiled, “Carolers! Get ‘em Kirby! Get ’em Ralphie!”
He opened storm door. A two dogs charged out. Nominally Jewish Girlfriend squealed—
Kirby and Ralphie were adorable Corgis. In a red sweaters that matched their owners’.
They pranced in our midst, stopping to sniff our shoes and wag their butts.
With the exception of Nominally Jewish Girlfriend, we stifled our laughter long enough to finish our song. Kirby’s and Ralphie’s owners applauded us as the Christmas Corgis reluctantly went back inside.
Nominally Jewish Girlfriend and Baby Brother got married the following year. They still live in New York. She still entertains other New Yorkers with the story of the insane siblings-in-law who dragged her out Christmas caroling in Central Virginia.
And were viciously set upon by Corgis.