Anybody know where that line comes from? Maybe it's ringing a bell, but you just can't quite place it. Let me help. It's from the English song Here We Come A-wassailing, which originated some time in the middle of the 19th century. Back in that day, people would venture door to door, singing Christmas carols and hoping for a bit of kindness from those listening from the threshold. If you're thinking Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol just about now, you aren't far off.
We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbors' children
Whom you have seen before.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year!
And God send you a Happy New Year!
The tradition of caroling from door to door is one that is at least vaguely familiar to most of us, at least if we're of middle age. But I wonder how often it's done these days. I can't tell you the last time carolers showed up at my door. But last night, a few hearty souls of the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale took to the streets of Wheaton and raised our voices in familiar Christmas carols.
We weren't really looking for handouts (though one generous household did offer some brownie bites!). It was a delightful time! The responses were varied and interesting. In our busy suburban world on a Friday night, it was no surprise that many houses were uninhabited. I caught one homeowner moving across the doorway, but choosing to not open the door. I don't know if he knew that I knew . . . but I knew! But there were several homes where the response was wonderful! As our little crew of 11 voices (nope! not an even SATB balance) sang out Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Joy to the World, one couple opened their door revealing two young boys in bathrobes and bare feet. Out they came, unshod, onto the chilly concrete porch, and there they stood taking in our Christmas rejoicing. It was tonic for us singers! At another home, a look through a window revealed what was clearly a teenage girl sleepover party underway. Teenage girls? A sleepover? No hope for an audience here. They should be the ones to turn off the light and shut the door, inviting us to go away! But no! The front door swung open, and these young girls seemed to really enjoy what they were hearing! So much for generational stereotypes! At yet another home, a little one of maybe two years old stood clapping his hands as we sang.
So maybe this Christmas, amidst all the busyness of life, amidst the worries of the looming fiscal cliff, and in spite of what can seem an increasingly cynical take on life, all of us need to be caroled. Or maybe we need to do the caroling for someone else. Maybe there's someone behind a door in your town who needs to hear voices ringing through the chilly night air:
Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
Music Director, Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale