When we moved into our house in 1982, we soon met our neighbors through a tree-planting project on 2nd Avenue. From that first neighborly connection, we began an annual ritual calendar of gathering— an Easter egg hunt for the kids, a 4th of July picnic, Halloween pumpkin carving and a Christmas caroling party.
All gradually fell away as the kids grew older and most of the original neighbors moved to other neighborhoods. But the one tradition that stayed intact was the caroling party, the neighbors who had moved away reuniting again alongside the new people that joined in. We met at our house for socializing around mulled wine and Holiday goodies, then gathered in the living room to sing through the Xeroxed songbook (words only) of all the songs in alphabetical order, me at the piano and occasional sound effects from jingle bells and such. Then out to the streets we went, me now with a guitar or accordion, spotting lights on in houses and singing until folks opened their doors. In the early days, there was a house for sick children, another for woman recently released from prison and they both were some of our most spirited and meaningful audiences. Once, I spontaneously led the group onto the N-Judah bus (without paying) and rode for seven blocks singing to and with the passengers. Then got off and sang a bit at Yancey’s Bar and Grill and Pascuale’s Pizza and other places. One year, two different bus drivers refused us entrance. Bah, humbug!!
Of course, no Caroling Party in 2020 (you know why) and in 2021, we met outdoors outside the Arboretum and worked our way backwards to our house, from 9th and Irving to 2nd (by which time there were only 10 or so of us left). This new version saved my wife from the eight hours of stress she endured each year getting the house ready for the party and her pre-pandemic announcement that she was done with that! So this saved the day and though I miss all the folks in our house, the clean-up is much easier!
This year, we met at the SIP Tea Room near 9th and Lincoln and sang around the piano there before hitting the streets with the guitar. The same old crumpled song-sheets, a few of the people that have been coming for 40 years and a new welcome bunch— kids in my daughter’s 5th grade class, the neighbors we met during the pandemic sings I led, my own grandkids and nephews, some old school kids we taught now with their children and a few who just heard us and joined in. The old sacred wine of beautiful music that called up each person’s own childhood and gives the comfort of continuity, now flowing in the new bottles of the changed venue, the changed group, the old group in a changed stage of their life.
We sang for some two hours, making ourselves and all the people we sang to so happy. Special kudos to the enthusiastic cooks and waiters at Pascuale’s Pizza and the generous owners of Lavash Restaurant distributing candy to the kids.
Old wine, new bottles. This is how we carry on.