Episode 271: Christmas Caroling Parties (Ep 79) Revisited


Here’s one from the vaults – Episode 79, re-worked and expanded to celebrate one of the most wonderful traditions from the Christmases of my childhood. I hope you are all making heart-warming memories with your own families and loved-ones during this season of lights.

I have a Patreon page! Please check it out. If you make a small pledge you’ll get to see photos and clips from my journals and hear a bit more about some of the stories. This is a fun way that I can share visuals with you.

Check it out HERE.  Or at patreon.com/dianathebard

If you want to hear more on any particular subject, or if you want to ask a question or simply connect, you can find me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/dianathebard    — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app


Hello, welcome back. And as I’m recording this, Christmas is only about a week away. I can’t believe it, I can’t believe how quickly, and yet really not quickly, this year has gone by. So much has happened and changed. I was so fortunate to be able to have that amazing long adventure!

So I thought maybe I would back up a little bit and talk about some of the Christmas traditions and Christmas experiences that I had as a young kid. Sneden’s Landing at Christmas was a beautiful, magical place. It’s called Sneden’s Landing because the ferry used to land there when crossing over from Tarrytown. The lower part of it is the actual landing where the ferry landed, and that’s why it was called that. But the whole neighborhood that grew up around it, coming up the hill and stopping at route 9 W ended up becoming called Sneden’s Landing, even though that wasn’t quite true. The upper part of the neighborhood centers on this adorable little white church, the Palisades Presbyterian Church. It was a gathering place and a hub of activity for us as kids in various ways. I went to confirmation classes there as a young child and ended up being confirmed as Presbyterian after having been baptized as a Greek Orthodox. (This was just part of my crazy journey with religion.) And we went to church there, especially on holidays, but we went sometimes for other things as well, baptisms and whatnot. 

But on holidays, there was of course, the Christmas Pageant. And I don’t know if we took part in that as kids, I guess we did. I don’t really remember. But I do remember my own kids taking part in it. And it was very, very funny to see all of the kids dressed up in these sweet little rustic costumes to be shepherds and kings. The angel wings had been saved for decades and decades. They were made out of wire hangers and cotton that was stretched over them and painted gold, and they were smushed into a box the rest of the year, and when they’d be pulled out to do the pageant we’d have to reshape them and whatnot. When my kids were very little I would help with the pageant, and I’d be one of the moms backstage who would outfit all the kids, and then they’d come out in their cute little groups. My daughter was the donkey one year singing “I am donkey, Shaggy, and brown..” I remember Noah, my stepbrother was Isaiah one year and he gave this dramatic exciting performance of Isaiah. And everyone left the church remarking about what an incredible actor he was going to be. I guess selling stock for a hedgefund demands a high level of acting too. 

But we had our traditions in in the neighborhood as a community. And when I was a kid, that neighborhood was really cohesive in that way. People did things together. And one of these wonderful things that they did together was a Christmas caroling party. Every year there was an annual party that was hosted by this family called the Normans, who lived in one of the most spectacular houses in Sneden’s. It was a huge three story Victorian mansion that overlooked the Hudson, and was surrounded by beautiful parklands, with incredible trees. There was a swimming pool that was surrounded by a colonnade and such. But they were not pretentious in that way. They were not exclusionary. Their house was open to people and people would come for all sorts of occasions and community meetings. I played with their kids, and always felt welcome there. Their pool was available, they would let people swim all the time. 

But in the winter they would host a Christmas party for the entire neighborhood. Everyone was invited. Absolutely everyone. And it was a huge party. And there were tons of little kids running around having candy and screaming and completely unruly, because they were over sugared and whatnot. And the house was decorated so beautifully. And the adults were all dressed up in their finery, and looked amazing. There was hot buttered rum and cookies of all sorts. Everybody baked and everybody cooked and brought things. And people were socializing all around the house for the first hour and a half or so.

 And then at some point, there was an announcement, “my friends, it’s time for Christmas caroling.” And then there was a big hubbub as everybody organized themselves into whatever role they were going to play in that part of the evening. Some of the people were going to be singing. And the kids loved to do that, because they loved walking around from house to house. But then there was this mass exodus as well, because half of the neighborhood ran home to their houses so they would be there to receive the carolers. It was absolutely charming. 

The carolers would hang back a little bit, while everyone else shuffled off to their homes. And it was a great, you know, device for ending a party is wonderful. But they would shuffle off to their homes, and we’d give them a little bit of time, and we’d all bundle up for Christmas caroling. And then we’d take off. The group was sometimes as big as 60 or 70 people. There would be sheet music that was handed out that was then collected so that it could be around for the next year, somebody was in charge of collecting it all. And those who didn’t know the carols didn’t know would read along with each other and sing to the best of their ability. but it really didn’t matter. Often I remember standing next to some people that had unexpectedly fantastic, voices, like a basso profondo that knocked your socks off, or some full-throated soprano who could really hit those high notes. They were just wonderful to hear. I delighted in learning the carols. Each year I’d learn more and more of them. And we would sing outside of people’s houses and always ended with We Wish You a Merry Christmas. We wish you a merry Christmas. And I remember people’s faces being downcast when that song began, because they were like, oh, no, no, don’t finish, don’t leave. But we would have to be on to the next house and on to the next house. And we walked all over the neighborhood singing it was a it was a long, long event, I think the party must have started probably at four or something like that, because you know, it was already dark, right. 

At the end of the evening we walked down this one long, flat road called Woods road that went off into the woods, obviously Woods road. And almost at the end of it was this little cottage that belonged to my piano teacher who I think I’ve told you about before named Mr. Powell. And he was a fantastic pianist. (He also directed the choir for the church services in a nearby town called Tappan. Many of his students were conscripted to sing with that choir so it was quite a full and rich sounding group.) When the carolers arrived at Mr. Powell’s house, he would insist that we all shuffle into his living room, and we packed in there. The room was full to the rafters of humans. And he would play and he play and play various Christmas carols and he you know, we would sing along and it would be marvelous because it was just all contained in the small room. So the acoustics were fantastic. And the blends in the four part harmony just sounding so fantastic. And he would insist the next one Oh, but you can’t leave until we do Away in the Manger. Oh, “But how about We Three Kings?” and we’d have to sing all the verses, you know, and then his wife would come out with more treats. How about some cookies and we’d already had so many cookies at the other party. But of course one more cookie. And finally we would sing Silent Night and that would be the last song of the evening. It was his favorite. Then we would break away and everyone would drift off in groups towards their own house with flashlights and rosy cheeks and wishing everybody a merry Christmas. 

It was a beautiful, beautiful tradition and that kind of generosity in terms of hosting is rare now. It continued for a while at the Normans house and then, when they were unable to host it anymore. The wife, the mom, she died of cancer. And you know, there was a time there when they didn’t want to do it. And another home took over for them later on. I was an adult by that point, and that tradition continued for a while. It was such a warm memory for so many that they tried to keep it up, but it eventually died out after a while, because the neighborhood changed. That happens, you know, but it was charming, and one of the most delightful memories of my childhood. 

Thank you for joining me in this memory. And I hope that in the next week or so you are building beautiful holiday memories together with your loved ones as well. Blessings and I’ll see you next time.

Published by dianathebard

Podcasting about growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 60s and 70s, falling in love, raising kids, getting divorced and being a free and creative world traveler!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: