Let us make this "a season to be jolly!" Despite our troubled times, let us rekindle the fond memories of Christmas past for our parents and grandparents. Let us touch the sentimental strings of carefree and youthful days that once consumed Baby Boomers and our military veterans.
Let us start with the idea of organizing some of our holiday festivities around the theme of singing carols and holiday songs. It doesn't get better than hearing joyous holiday songs while hauling in the Christmas tree. Some familiar old-timers reminisce about the joy of Christmas carols.
Andy Williams, a popular singer of the 1960s and 1970s, described celebrating the Christmas season in an interview with me several years ago.
"It was such a great time," Andy said, as he and his three older brothers used to go house to house singing carols and drinking eggnog in Wall Lake, Iowa. "Those were the days when you knocked on a neighbor's door and opened unlocked doors."
The talented singer who still entertains at his Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri, suggested it would be a nice thing to renew the tradition of caroling around the neighborhood, or one's home town, "because it is such a wonderful thing to do."
Della Reese, familiar to television viewers for her earthly role in the popular 1994-2003 program "Touched by an Angel," wrote at the same time "I just love the way Christmas carols change the spirit and attitudes of us all." An accomplished singer and ordained minister, in addition to her acting skills, she described "Silent Night" as a magnificent thought, and her favorite holiday tune as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" sung by the mellifluous Nat "King" Cole. The irrepressible Della added, "In fact, I don't really start my Christmas in earnest until I hear Nat sing 'The Christmas Song.'"
The late Gene Pitney enjoyed considerable success as a country and pop singer on both sides of the Atlantic through the mid-1960s with more than 20 Top 40 singles, including hits "Town Without Pity" and "Only Love Can Break a Heart." Gene fondly recalled carving the turkey when his large family gathered for the holidays and the singing of Christmas carols.
"I prefer religious carols," he said, "that have not become jaded by commercial overuse. They represent the essential Christmas message."
Take a cue from Andy, Della, and Gene. Start this holiday season with the idea of organizing your festivities around the theme of singing carols and holiday songs.
Celebrate with friends and family at home beside the fireplace or piano, or while trimming the Christmas tree, with traditional classics as "O Little Town of Bethlehem," or "The Twelve Days of Christmas," or singing such nostalgic holiday fare as "White Christmas," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
Encourage friends to join in the singing of "Silent Night" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in front of your neighbors' city stoop or country home. Better yet, why not visit a nursing home for the infirmed or old age, or a food kitchen for the poor and homeless, or a military hospital for our aged veterans or wounded warriors? Rest assured your caroling there will be met with open hearts and ready smiles.
Or you might volunteer to take part in the local performance of Handel's "Messiah" for other worthy causes, or support a local church by attending its vesper service where awe-inspiring Christmas motets and concertos may reverberate, and where the reverential carol-hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" soars to celestial heights on the wings of angels. This is truly music for the soul.
Though the custom of singing carols in front of neighborhood homes may seem quaint and outdated, let us redouble our efforts, especially this year, to engage young and old alike in reviving a wonderful Christmas tradition that is never out of fashion.
Ron Clancy is a Christmas music historian, author, and preservationist. He has appeared on PBS Religious & Ethics Newsweekly, EWTN, the Catholic cable channel, QVC, and Comcast, and his story and illustrated Christmas music gift collections have been featured on radio and newspapers across the country.