Caroling Through the Town

It was a crazy idea. But then again it was the Christmas season. And whoever came up with the American idea of Christmas itself had to be a little crazy to begin with.

Think about it. A man climbs a two-story ladder and staples six thousand little lights to his gutter then takes them down in three weeks, that’s not exactly normal.

So we decided we would go caroling one year. I was a young man. We came up with this idea during an employee Christmas party at a Mexican restaurant one evening when they were serving half-price margaritas.

We left the restaurant and chose neighborhoods at random. We sang carols on front lawns until many kindhearted homeowners opened their doors and became so moved by our holiday spirit that they called the police.

It didn’t take long to realize that we didn’t know more than two carols. So eventually we quit singing carols and started singing tunes like “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Muskrat Love” by Captain and Tenille. My old coworker Ellen, who is still a close friend, led the singing with a stunning voice that was reminiscent of the late Yosemite Sam.

We had so much fun that we decided to do it again the following year. Our employee manager, Ken, held a few preliminary rehearsals at his house. And by “rehearsals” I mean that we played Texas Hold’em in Ken’s basement.

As it happened, that night Ken’s wife had also invited twenty-four additional vocalists to join our choral group. Ken was not happy about this because these were not just any old singers, these were people who sang in the Southern Baptist choir with Ken’s wife.

I want to stress here that Southern Baptists are wonderful people, don’t get me wrong, I was raised Baptist. I know every word to “Just As I Am.” But many Baptists do not even allow Listerine in their household and therefore aren’t exactly the folks you want to go a’wassailing with.

So on the night of our caroling extravaganza, we all piled into a few vans. Many of us were wearing Santa hats, loud outfits, and oversized sunglasses. But the Baptists all arrived dressed in full Charles Dickens period attire. A few brought King James Bibles.

And already we noticed that the word “caroling” meant different things to different people. To some, it meant going with the flow, laughing, singing the song “My Girl” complete with Temptations dance moves that looked a lot like grand mal seizures.

But to the Baptist choir, caroling meant singing like they were auditioning for the lead role in an off-Broadway production of Rigoletto. So we almost called it quits.

Until we arrived on one doorstep.

An old couple appeared in the doorway. They smiled at us. They were from Germany. The lady asked if we knew any songs in German.

Ken happened to know “O Tannenbaum.” But as it turned out the only lyrics he knew were the song’s title words. So his rendition went like this:

“O tannenbaum, O tannenbaum,
“O tannenbaum, O tannenbaum,
“O tannenbaum, O tannenbaum,
“O tannenbaum, O tannenbaum…”

The couple applauded anyway. Then the old man told us that we were caroling all wrong. He told us how the Europeans do it. For one thing, he said they didn’t call it “caroling.” They called it “wassailing.” And wassailing, according to this old man, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, involves: Booze.

The man shouted, “You can’t wassail without TOASTING to your health!”

This caused quite a stir among our fundamentalist brethren who don’t believe in toasting alcohol because it could lead to Listerine. The old man invited us into his home to wassail our butts off.

Wassailing, I learned, is basically an impromptu party with appetizers, cold cuts, cheeses, disco balls, and spiked eggnog that is so potent it’s a fire hazard. Many people in Dickens attire drank gallons of this eggnog without knowing what it was. Pretty soon, everyone was shouting and hollering, and everyone’s bonnets were crooked.

By the time we left this house, Ken and I were trying to prevent people in period costume from falling on the sidewalk and busting their Blessed Assurances.

Thus, the whole tone of the night changed. Everyone went from feeling pretty bored to feeling the same level of cheer often found at Willie Nelson concerts.

The little German couple joined us caroling through the neighborhood, beating on doors, singing songs at random. We sang at the tops of our lungs, we ate lots of snacks, and the best part was that more singers were joining us.

By the time we got to the end of the neighborhood we had almost thirty neighbors following us. Maybe more. Kids in pajamas, parents in bathrobes, dads with children riding on their shoulders, children on bicycles.

Each time we reached a new doorstep, our combined voices would be loud enough to blow in the windows. And everyone was feeling so good that many of the Baptists were already forming a mission trip to Germany.

And it was at this point that my friend Ken looked at me and said, “Man, this is the best Christmas ever!” We slapped each other’s backs and hugged while everyone sang, “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Looking back, this might be one of my most cheerful holiday memories. Because I suppose you never know how many “best-Christmas-evers” you’ll get, so it’s a good idea to enjoy them while you still can.

No Southern Baptists were harmed during the making of this column.

Merry Christmas, Ken. Wherever you are.


  1. Dawn Bratcher - December 15, 2019 6:53 am

    Hahaha…Love it! What a great memory for you & your friends❤

  2. GEORGE THOMAS JONES - December 15, 2019 8:00 am


  3. Leigh Amiot - December 15, 2019 11:21 am


  4. Harriet - December 15, 2019 1:26 pm

    My kids and I were just talking about caroling last night! What a great memory! Those southern baptist combined with your work friends is beyond hilarious!!

  5. Alice Roose - December 15, 2019 2:05 pm

    Dear Sean what a funny and sweet story!Merry Christmas to you and your family!love you God bless you

  6. Mary Ratliff - December 15, 2019 2:06 pm

    I come from a large raucous German family from Milwaukee (but now have lived for 40 years in Alabama) and all our Christmas’s and pretty much any gathering ended up featuring that kind of merriment! Still am doing my part to convince the pearl twirlers to lighten up, imbibe a little, and join in whatever fun we are having as that is what constitutes my best memories.

  7. Edna Beam - December 15, 2019 2:52 pm

    Caroling had always been one of my favorite Christmas activities. One year my kids and I had recently moved several states away from friends and family, and were anxious about our Christmas plans. I heard someone at the front door and opened it to find a quartet of carolers dressed in Dickens era costumes, singing carols in beautiful harmony. They seemed to have singled out our house, and I never knew who they were, but I felt very blessed.

  8. Cathi Russell - December 15, 2019 2:56 pm

    Always remember, just because it’s a bad idea, it doesn’t mean it won’t be a heckava lot of fun!

  9. angie5804 - December 15, 2019 3:04 pm

    Love the expression “busting their Blessed Assurances”!!

  10. Sharon Brock - December 15, 2019 3:27 pm

    Laugh out loud funny. Thank you Sean. I am sitting in front of a fake lit tree and a fake fire watching the snow outside. Columbia, Missouri and surrounding environs are expecting 5–8 inches and it has started. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  11. Linda Moon - December 15, 2019 4:40 pm

    Someone I know and love is not exactly normal around the house at Christmas season and during the rest of the year, too. “Go Your Own Way” seems like a sinister tune that an actual homeowner might hear at the front door from strangers telling him/her to “GO”…leave the premises while they take your stuff, perhaps. I would prefer to hear your unique version of “Just As I Am” if you showed up at my front door. I might even let you in, especially during the Christmas Season! Merry Christmas and Happy Wassailing!!

  12. jack - December 15, 2019 5:31 pm

    it is good to know that someone, you, are old enough to remember neighborhood caroling. Not sure mama would approve of the ‘wassailing’ thingie though, she was pennycostal.
    Enjoyed the read anyway!
    Sherry & jack Have a Very Merry Christmass, iffn I don’t get back….

  13. Shelton A. - December 15, 2019 6:50 pm

    I sing like wounded mule. Caroling and I aren’t made for each other. Glad you had a fun time and no Listerine was consumed. A little eggnog is good for you, though…and your Christmas spirit.

  14. Tim House - December 15, 2019 9:01 pm

    Great tale! Great memory for you. 🙂

  15. Phil S. - December 15, 2019 10:36 pm

    Frohe Weinachten!! And a Jolly Wassail to everyone!!

  16. nancy Pritchett hood - December 15, 2019 10:44 pm

    I want to join that group & go wassailing right now! As a Methodist Church musician, I found this column to be right on & hysterically funny! Thanks for the laughs!

  17. KiKi - December 16, 2019 3:39 am

    I have wonderful memories of caroling through the neighborhoods every year with my church youth group. You brought those back with this column. No alcohol but plenty of hot chocolate and cookies awaited us. Thank you for the reminder of giving to others.

  18. ABoomerDoug Reece - December 16, 2019 3:40 am

    OMG! Yosemite Sam died?

  19. Dru Brown - December 16, 2019 4:06 am

    I caroled with my church youth once and Jim Nabors joined us and shared my songbook! His mom was a member of our church. It was still, cold, a beautiful starlit night. It’s one of my most magical Christmas memories. P.S. No wassailing occurred during this Methodist event!

  20. Chasity Davis Ritter - December 16, 2019 4:13 am

    That’s the thing about best Christmas memories or any best day memories is that you don’t always realize it when it’s happening it’s only when you look back you get to see just how great it was. I’ve been thinking about a lot of those this year. Thanks for sharing some of yours with us. Merry Christmas Sean

  21. BJean - December 16, 2019 2:11 pm

    Whoa! Sounds like so much fun!

  22. aleathia nicholson - December 16, 2019 4:37 pm

    This is the most hilarious column I’ve gotten in Lord knows when! Just thinking about those drunk Baptists made me scream with laughter….I guess because I’m an Episcopalian. Send me everything you’ve got. I’m in assisted living and we’re quarantined because some idiot got some disease old people don’t need.

  23. Barbara Jean - December 16, 2019 7:01 pm

    My absolute favorite line: And everyone was feeling so good that many of the Baptists were already forming a mission trip to Germany.

    Ah, truer words were never spoken! (I can say this–I’m a Baptist!)

    Thanks so much for the fun and merriment.

  24. Carol - December 18, 2019 1:27 am

    Would love to have been there. 😇
    Merry Christmas 🎁🎄 my friend ❤️
    Love ya!

  25. Stephen Hatch - February 16, 2020 12:18 am

    Funny you should mention Listerine. Once when NyQuil came up in a conversation, a co-worker of mine, who is also Baptist through and through, jokingly called it Baptist Bourbon. Since then I have found that two fingers on the rocks will pretty well take care of anything that ails you.


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