You're still young, by any standard, but your little ones can make you feel old, at a moment's notice. And the holiday season seems to have more than its share of those moments. Like tonight-your family's been invited to a potluck get-together with friends. There are games and activities for the kids, while the adults are spending an all-too-rare evening, socializing and catching up. It's relaxing, enjoyable, and fun-until some idiot opens their big mouth and announces aloud their bright idea about the perfect way to cap off this perfect night:
"Let's all go Christmas caroling!"
The kids cheer, as one, at the prospect of this adventure.
You and the other parents look at each other, fake smiles of fake excitement barely hiding your inner sighs of disappointment. What sane person would choose to wander the neighborhood, after dark, in the cold-singing? Didn't Ben Franklin invent his stove, in the first place, so we could stay warm, inside, during the winter? As you bravely don your cold-weather apparel, you can't help but wonder-what kind of sadistic mind ever conjured up such a barbaric way to celebrate the season?
Whoever the first Christmas caroler was is history's secret, but the tradition of "traveling" singers, in Western culture, goes back many centuries. In ancient times, when literacy was reserved for the privileged few, information was passed through the countryside by travelers. At some point, an early entrepreneur probably realized that there was a profitable way to satisfy peoples' hunger for news. Traveling minstrels composed songs about the latest wars, the brave conquests of kings, and the unmatched beauty of queens. They moved from village to village, performing their "newscasts" in return for food, lodging, and the occasional tiny fee-like traveling theatrical troupes.
Later, throughout Europe, these "criers" actually became an important part of every group of traveling "players". Some were even employed, long-term, by the wealthy or the royal, to compose and entertain for their guests. Remember Alan'a'Dale, Robin Hood's companion? He was just such a minstrel, recounting the exploits of his friend, in song.
St. Francis Of Assissi is credited with introducing the "carol" into Christmas, in 1223. Up until then, the term "carol" referred to a folk song or dance, performed at non-religious celebrations. By taking a less solemn approach to religious music, Francis probably realized the majority of people would learn and pass on the songs about Christ's birth, more readily.
Naturally, these new kinds of religious songs were picked up and spread by the traveling minstrels. Later, during the English Revolution-and later still, in America-efforts were made to ban Christmas caroling; it was considered sacrilegious to celebrate so solemn an occasion in such a frivolous way. One way caroling made its way back into favor, was by using it as a way of collecting money for the poor at Christmastime-a tradition still practiced today, by many groups.
Admit it-as you walk from house to house, with your friends and your kids, bundled against the cold, singing familiar songs that bring back fond memories of Christmas past, you forget how old you felt an hour ago. This is what Christmas always has been and always will be about. And inside, you feel pretty warm and pretty young, don't you?