44 Years of Tradition

While I still do not have much Christmas spirit this year, I enjoyed gathering with friends I have known since junior high school once again last night for our traditional Christmas caroling gathering. (Yep, I wore leather jeans, a red shirt, and instead of high-heeled cowboy boots (shown in this old photo), I wore Chippewa firefighter boots which are much more comfortable on my feet when I have to stand for a long time and walk a lot.)

Way back in Junior High…

…about 20 of my friends and I would meet at each other’s homes to learn and practice singing Christmas carols. We rehearsed for weeks and weeks. Even though I could not carry a tune, I enjoyed this camaraderie for a variety of reasons. My father had died earlier during the first year we did this, and having something warm-hearted and spirited to do helped me deal with the deep sadness and grief over my father’s death, especially the first Christmas without him.

We strolled the streets of our neighborhood on three nights before Christmas, and enthusiastically sang our hearts out for our neighbors.

My friends and I enjoyed this activity so much that we vowed to continue doing it, and we did — through high school, college, and throughout our adult lives.

So last night for the 44th year in a row, we gathered at a friend’s house. This friend lives in our old neighborhood, having purchased his family home from his parents. Ten of the original group were present. That is pretty good considering how much time has passed and that our friends have scattered to live around the country and the world (such as my twin brother who lives in Italy).

Our group was augmented by spouses, children, and grandchildren of our original members (my spouse did not attend; he does not like social gatherings.) All totaled, we had about 40 people at this reunion. I regret being the only one of our original group who was there “stag” (alone w/o spouse or family), but my friends welcomed me warmly, regardless.

To remain consistent with tradition, we “rehearsed” among ourselves for about 45 minutes, nibbled on too many goodies, and with some “assistance” from egg nog and the growing spirit, we ventured out into the neighborhood and strolled along the streets to visit neighbors door-to-door. It was cold, but not horrible. We were bundled up and warmed by the spirit of our long-term friendship.

I was surprised that people were not at home only one house out of about 20 at which we stopped. People opened their doors, listened, smiled, and offered us cookies and hot chocolate — just like the days of old.

What was most interesting to me is that more than half of the houses at which we stopped and sang were occupied by people of other faiths than Christianity. Our former neighborhood has become as diverse as the rest of my home county, and is richer with people of varying ethnic and religious background and beliefs. Regardless of religion (or not), people smiled, welcomed us, and enjoyed our sharing our traditions with them.

One house was having a party, and invited us in. Their daughter had recently gotten married, and consistent with their Muslim traditions, they were having a celebration for the newly married couple. They invited us to sample their food traditions, and asked us to sing. We were asked to sing songs that we most enjoyed for the song’s lyrics about our Christian faith.

We sang “The First Noel” for its story of the birth of Jesus. We sang “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful” for its story of celebration of the Holy Birth (and also because I taught my friends the verses in Latin, Adeste Fideles. We actually sang both in English and Latin, which blended well together, as if we had rehearsed.)

Then my friends asked me to sing my signature hymn, Tu Scendi Dalle Stele (best version here). I really missed my twin brother harmonizing with me, but I had sung that song for so many years that two of my other friends knew the words in Italian and joined me.

Our new friends of Muslim faith clapped and thanked us for sharing our traditions of the season with them. We thanked them for inviting us into their home and for the opportunity to learn about their faith and traditions as well.

It was getting too late to knock on more doors, so we sang while we strolled along the neighborhood streets of my old home ‘hood as we returned to my friend’s house. There were so many rich memories of so long ago flooding my mind, I got caught up in the moment and tears welled up. I was missing my family, especially my parents, and this year, missing my twin brother.

My friends are an intuitive bunch. They wrapped me up in their cheer and laughter. I so appreciate, cherish, and love having such great life-long friends.

We returned to my friend’s house, ate some more, (they) drank some more, and caught up on each other’s lives. But (again, consistent with my body clock), I said by good-byes by 11pm and drove home, singing all the way.

Spouse was snuggly as a bug on the sofa when I arrived. I didn’t have the spirit to really awaken him with my excitement, so I just guided him to bed and hit the sack myself. I was tired, but smiling a lot with a spiritly-warmed heart.

Life is short: cherish traditions.