Caroling in the Cold
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
As our holiday to-do lists grow longer it can be difficult to keep anticipation from morphing into anxiety.
Commentator Julie Zickefoose found that song, fellowship and warm cookies fixed all that on a frigid night one Christmas past.
JULIE ZICKEFOOSE: My husband Bill is really good at talking people into things. So it was that I wound up taking our daughter Phoebe Christmas caroling with our church group on the coldest night of the year. It was eight degrees outside, the kind of cold that gives you an instant headache, as if you'd just eaten a whole scoop of ice cream. Bill would spend the evening at home eating popcorn in bed with our five-year-old son. See what I mean?
Phoebe and I dressed as if we were going to be left out on an ice flow overnight. Fourteen other hearty souls met at the foyer of our church. If you don't love to sing, you shouldn't be a Lutheran.
We plunged out into the frigid night, our feet pounding the icy brick sidewalks. I quickly realized that it would be up to somebody to have a carol picked out and a key decided upon before the carolees(ph) opened their door.
I'd shout out suggestions then hum a quick pitch note, as another of our group knocked on each door. This note was usually lost in the excitement of the moment, and our enthusiastic but unpolished group would begin the carol in three or four different keys.
People would open their doors, smiling gamely, pulling their shirts and sweaters tightly around themselves as they listen to our chorus. We kept it just to first verses and sang two songs to a house. If there were cookies, we'd sing more.
And there were cookies. At one house, a woman passed around a rack of still-hot chocolate chip cookies, their tops dusted with red and green sugar. A hot cookie on frozen teeth is a wonderful thing.
At the next house, a beautiful old Victorian, a young mother knelt on a couch next to a narrow floor-to-ceiling window with her little son beside her. His mouth fell open. His face was alight with wonder at this crowd of people, just outside, singing their hearts out on the coldest night of the year.
“Away in a Manger” seemed appropriate and we sang two verses then finished with “Silent Night.” The mother smoothed the little boy's dark hair over and over, then wiped her cheeks with both hands.
We flew from house to house, and as we trooped silently down a cobblestone hill, I began to sing to myself oh, holy night, a hymn of surpassing beauty best left to a professional or practiced discretely in the shower. I've forgotten a lot of the words but I forged on, realizing too late that I've pitched too high. No matter, I sent it up into the starry night, bouncing off the bare tree limbs and the snow-covered rooftops headed for the silvery quarter moon.
(Singing) Oh, night divine! Oh, night, oh, holy night.
BLOCK: Commentator Julie Zickefoose sings in the streets of Marietta, Ohio, because the houses are too far apart in Whipple. Her book of essays and paintings titled “Letters From Eden” was published this fall.
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