A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



It isn't that I don't like Christmas caroling. No, I take that back. It IS that I don't like it. That is precisely the problem. I don't like it one bit. Never have. And I don't suppose that I ever will.

Perhaps I was frightened by an off-key version of "Angels I Have Heard on High." Maybe as a child of the Cold War I was confused by the notion of three Oriental kings and a "good King Wenceslas" (good? how could he be good? Wenceslas sounds so . . . Russian!). Or maybe it was the whole "you better not" thing in "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"-you know, the one about how Santa is "making a list and checking it twice" in order to "find out who's naughty and nice"? To a little boy who did all the "you better nots" regularly and sort of specialized in "naughty," not "nice," the possibility of being on the wrong list loomed large, and hardly seemed to be worth singing about.

More likely, it's just the whole caroling scenario that I find unappealing. Tramping through the cold and snow. Walking up to neighbor's houses uninvited. Making them stand there with their doors open, letting the cold in, while we spend the first half of the song trying to get in tune, and the second half trying to remember the words ("Here we come a-caroling . . . something, something green . . . something, something, sooomething, something, something seen"-or something). It's part trick- or-treating, part street mime, part terrorism. And it's all painful.

At least, it is to me. But some members of our family seem to enjoy it (I won't name names, but you wouldn't be wrong if you guessed my wife, Anita), and so we go caroling every year with another family in our neighborhood. It's a tradition, and at this time of year tradition must be served no matter how little actual sense it makes (like singing "Auld Lang Syne"-does anybody even know what that song means? For all we know, those words could be pornographic, but we keep singing it every New Year's Eve because it's a tradition, and tradition must be served).

Last night was the night of the annual caroling catastrophe . . . er, party, and I guess my attitude was showing. As we were bundling up in a futile attempt to stay warm, my eldest son, Joe, put an arm around me and whispered in my ear: "Just remember what you always used to tell me."

"What's that? You mean, 'If your friends all jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?'"

"No, the other thing," he said. "Whenever you were going to make us go somewhere that we didn't want to go, you'd always say, 'Look, you can be miserable, or you can at least try to have a good time. It's up to you. Your attitude will determine whether or not you have any fun.'"

"So you're saying that if I have a good attitude about it, I'll actually enjoy caroling?"

"Not necessarily," he said. "But I'll bet you'll have more fun than if you go with a bad attitude. At least, that's what you always used to say to me."

Don't you just hate it when you are trapped by your own words?

So what choice did I have? I had to at least try to have fun. And you know what? It wasn't bad. Don't get me wrong-I'm not ready to go out caroling again tonight or anytime during the next 364 days, give or take a millennium. But we had a pretty good time. It was cold. We sang off-key. We didn't remember all the words to all the songs. One neighbor actually closed their door on us. But we laughed a lot, and we grew a little closer as we made a few new memories. And it didn't hurt that Anita made sweet-and-sour meatballs as a post-caroling snack. With the help of a little attitude adjustment-and a couple of meatballs- a good time, as they say, was had by all.

Even the man who doesn't like caroling.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and