The comical but well-intentioned Ecclesiastical Insurance Carol Singing Guide gives would-be carol singers stern health-and-safety warnings, such as ‘Never sing in the road’ and ‘Ensure children are always accompanied by an adult.
This rather misses the point of carol singing—its spontaneity, community spirit and festive cheer, often fuelled by Christmas spirit(s). Here is the Country Life guide to carol singing, based on my own experiences of singing with a hardy band in our 14-house village of Sherrington in Wiltshire.
1. Personnel: In a small village, it isn’t possible to have everyone carolling, otherwise there’ll be no one left to sing to. Involve the rest of the community by arranging a post-carolling party, and make sure everyone knows you’re coming…
2. Route: Plan your route carefully. You don’t want to end up covering the same patch twice, or—far worse!—missing people out. Start at the far end of the village and head for home, to keep up the spirits of the younger members of the group
3. Music: Organise song sheets well in advance, preferably with large, clear type for easier viewing in dark country lanes. Make sure you include all the classics, so that you’re well equipped for requests, and range from boisterous all-in numbers, like Ding Dong Merrily On High, to child-friendly pieces, like Away in a Manger
4. Instrumentals: As a cheery addition, you can enlist any musically minded choir members to bring along instrumental accompaniments. (This may be more effective with the resident village composer playing his French horn than with a keen six-year-old beginner violinist)
5. Illumination: A key element of carolling is the ability to read your well-prepared song sheets! Equip yourselves with plenty of torches, or—for the traditional touch—electric lanterns. Candles are romantic, but frankly asking for trouble
6. Clothing: Wrap up warm, as you’ll spend a lot of time standing still in cold lanes. However, ensure that you can still breathe properly under your many layers, so that your sound is not compromised. Be mindful of tramping into houses in muddy/snowy outer footwear
7. Provisions: Ideally, a grateful community will be ready to exchange your angelic sound for mince pies and mulled wine (you can advertise the choir’s tipple of choice). Pace yourselves on both counts, so as not to cause offence by having to turn down food and drink during the later house calls
8. Pace: Try to maintain a brisk pace around the village, pausing long enough to taste success at each house, but not so long that you’re pulled off mission. There is plenty of time for socialising later
9. After-party: Unite the carollers, flushed with success, and their grateful recipients in an after-party. Additional (possibly alcohol-fuelled) party singsongs are optional
10. Tradition: Repeat the following year, and the year after that. Once you have your magic carolling formula sorted, your village’s festive season will be incomplete without it
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