Oh, come all ye faithful carolers
Door-to-door Christmas caroling, once a cherished New England tradition, has largely gone the way of the Christmas goose.
Blame it on the hectic pace of modern life, isolation from our neighbors, or competition from media and technology.
Yet there are still communities in New Hampshire where traditional caroling lives on.. Friends of Stark Park in Manchester invite all to join them for caroling in the park at the bandstand today at 4 p.m. Trained singers will lead the caroling, and song sheets will be provided; folks are asked to bring flashlights or electric candles.
. In Dover, teens and families from the Parish of the Assumption will be caroling downtown tonight on their way back from singing at an assisted living facility.
. And two local churches hope to fill the Milford Oval on Christmas Eve (Tuesday) for a traditional carol service at 6:30 p.m., followed by refreshments.
Patricia Howard, who is on the board of Friends of Stark Park, said her group used to go door-to-door caroling in Manchester's North End. Sometimes, she said, "The snow was so deep, and it was so hard to maneuver safely."
So now the group does caroling at the bandstand, which is lighted for the season.
"Everyone's invited," Howard said. "I think it's just a very friendly, nice, calm, Christmas thing to do."
Those who attend are asked to bring nonperishable food donations for New Hampshire Food Bank.
Howard said she sometimes still gets groups of neighbors who come caroling at her home near the park. "It just makes me weep," she said. "I love it. It's just so old-fashioned and neighborly and nice."
Sharon Ranalli is youth minister at Parish of the Assumption in Dover. Tonight marks the third year that young people from the Life Teen group will be caroling for residents at Waldron Towers assisted living facility, she said.
They set out from St. Mary Church after the 5 p.m. Mass, practicing as they walk. They bring along some cookies to share with the seniors.
"We spend about an hour socializing, singing Christmas carols and trying to entertain them a little bit for the holidays," Ranalli said.
Other parishioners join the teens, she said. "We have little kids, families, couples, people that just want to come and be with us."
And on the way back, they stop along Central Avenue at local shops and restaurants - "any place that's open," she said. "They're shocked, but they love it."
Last year, she said, "we sang for a police officer who was on duty. He was sitting in his car. We knocked on the window and we all started singing, and he loved it."
Ranalli said caroling is a way to "share the story of Christmas and bring joy, simple joy."
And it shows the teens that "you can bring joy to people just by being yourself, just by being who you are," she said. "And it doesn't cost anything."
A group of students from Parker Academy in Concord took time out from school work on two separate days last week to go caroling downtown.
David Parker is director and founder of the Academy, a middle/high school for students with special needs, including autism and learning disabilities. He said the students stopped at local shops, cafes, a bank and the Chamber of Commerce, singing a few songs at each stop - and encouraging folks to join in.
"The impromptu nature of it makes it really spirited," Parker said. "That's what caroling was historically, people going around just singing joyfully."
"It's amazing how appreciative people were," said Paul Keiner, the English and history teacher who directs the chorus. "It's doing something as a community, and I think people appreciate that."
Parker said it also gives the students a chance to connect with their community. "Performance has a place in learning because you put yourself out there," he said. "And I think for our kids that's really important because you want them to feel safe and integrated in the community."
A group from Countryside Community Church in Contoocook has gone door-to-door caroling in town for many years. "A bunch of us like to sing, and we just thought it was a great way to go out and sing about the season - and the real reason for the season," said Kathy Bacon, one of the organizers.
Bacon said some carolers split off and bring cookies and carols to shut-ins. And the evening always ends at the senior apartment complex in town.
"We have a little party with them," she said. "They sing with us, and we bring in hot cocoa and cookies.
"Everybody has a great time."
Bacon, who started caroling during her college years in Portland, Maine, said she's never missed a year - not even the year she was on crutches.
"It kind of makes the holiday because you get to share what the true meaning for the season is with folks," she said.
Bacon has done some research into the history of caroling and discovered it was traditionally done on Christmas Eve. "It started out with children doing it, and people would give them candy."
You can still sing carols on Christmas Eve if you visit Milford. That's where Light of the World Christian Church and Burns Hill Christian Fellowship host traditional open-air caroling at the Milford Oval.
"The town graciously allows us to use that on Christmas Eve, which is really festive," noted Graham Birch, from Light of the World. "Our vision is that people in the town of Milford would bring their families out for an hour and just come and hear the Christmas message."
Link to past
The group traditionally has modeled its event on "The Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols," which dates back to Christmas Eve in 1918 London, when the world was celebrating the end of the "Great War." There are traditional carols and Scripture readings.
"We have a small choir," Birch said, then amended that: "Choir is probably a bit of an overstatement. We have a group of enthusiastic singers that carry most of the tunes."
Christine and Ed Munz have been caroling together since they were paired as singing partners in high school in Wisconsin. That was 45 years ago.
They now lead the caroling at Stark Park in Manchester. "It's not a performance; it's a sing-a-long," Christine Munz stressed.
It's also a chance to slow down and share the Christmas spirit with neighbors, she said.
"It's the love of singing, the wonderment of the season, just the sheer pleasure of pausing," she said. "But it's more than just an event. It's the friendship that can be nurtured in the community."