By Diane Schlindwein

September 3, 2010 5 min read

When Whitney Cornish was a little girl, she and her family gathered with neighbors one Sunday night every December for Christmas caroling, followed by hot chocolate and assorted holiday treats. The memories of singing and then feasting with the "Walnut Street Carolers" are happy ones -- and now that Cornish is a young mother herself, she plans on continuing the tradition with her own children. "I remember how much fun it was to stop at our neighbors' homes, knock on their doors and sing them a song or two," she says. "We had songbooks, and the grown-ups carried candles. One year, it was snowing, which was great. It was just a nice thing to do." Modern carolers like Cornish are carrying on a tradition that was begun by St. Francis of Assisi, who is credited with introducing both Christian carols and the Nativity cr?che. Starting in about 1223, performers in Francis' Italian Nativity plays sang canticles to relay the stories. The songs later became popular in France, Spain, Germany and other European countries. Although the English Puritans eventually banned the carols, people sang them in secret, passing down the words and tunes from generation to generation. Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" helped revive an interest in Christmas, so most of the carols that we know were written after 1850. Caroling in the streets first became popular in the United States in the early 20th century. It was during that time period that William H. Danforth, the founder of Ralston Purina, began a charity called the St. Louis Christmas Carols Association, which still raises thousands of dollars for charity every year. "Caroling is truly one of the best ways to experience the joy of the season," says Joan Koontz, the director of the association. "Our carolers know they are actually giving twice to the community -- once through the joy singing brings to their listeners and twice because the donations they collect go to help children in the metro St. Louis area." Any time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a good time to carol, Koontz says. "Most of our groups go out early in the evening, after dinner but before the kids go to bed." Gathering 10 to 15 carolers makes for a nice-sized group. "If a group is too small, it can be difficult to make a sound loud enough to fill the night air," Koontz says. "If a group is too large, it becomes difficult to move everyone from house to house, especially at night. Be sure to have one good, confident singer in your group who can be the 'leader'; it will help everyone to sing with more confidence." When caroling, safety should come first. If you are going out with a group of children, be sure you have plenty of adults along. Count heads before you head out, and remind kids to stay together and to watch for cars, both in the street and backing out of driveways. If you are caroling in the evening, apply reflective tape to coats and snowsuits. Little children shouldn't carry real candles, so provide a safer choice, such as flashlights, camping lanterns or battery-operated candles. If you have toddlers in tow, consider bringing a wagon or, if it's snowing, a sled. "Be realistic in deciding how many houses you'll visit, and consider the temperature outside, the number of children and the age of everyone in your group," Koontz says. "If you live in a cold climate, dress warm. Purchase small hand and foot warmers; they are inexpensive, and they really work." Considering the number of carols available, carolers have a variety of songs from which to choose. "Often adults seem to prefer the more classic carols, such as 'Silent Night,' 'Away in a Manger' and 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,'" Koontz says. "Kids usually like the more upbeat, Santa-themed songs, such as 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town' and 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,' and several winter songs, such as 'Jingle Bells' and 'Frosty the Snowman.' In my experience as an elementary music teacher, though, I found the kids asked for the classic carols, too. These songs have such meaning in our lives and initiate deep memories." Koontz says that no matter how often she carols, the magic of the season stays with her. "The best part of caroling is seeing the faces of your listeners, particularly the kids," she says. "I had one woman describe it to me this way: 'One little boy in his pajamas looked for all the world as if he was seeing Santa himself. His expression was priceless.' I think that says it all."COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

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