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  • Writer's pictureashleylodato

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

The New Yorker, 12.25.23

Years ago my family and some friends launched a tradition of caroling our neighbors at Christmas, and somehow, despite the obstacles that threaten its execution each year — work schedules, social commitments, teen willingness — we’re still at it.

In the early years we were serious about our preparation. We printed out multiple copies of songs, organizing them in three-ring binders. We gathered around a piano for a practice session before heading out on foot to serenade hapless residents of nearby houses. We wore Santa hats and blinking ornament necklaces.

One year, I buckled on snowshoes earlier in the day and compacted a trail through the fields between our houses, to allow for dashing through the snow.

Another year a dozen or so of us caroled beyond our regular fan base, adding a few new houses to our route. Outside our last stop, at a home at the end of a long driveway, we paused before knocking to remind ourselves of our set list. Emboldened by what we perceived to be universal appreciation for our traveling chorale thus far, we added a fourth song to our usual repertoire of three. We didn’t know these particular neighbors — let’s call them “The Neighbors” — very well, but we somehow thought they would welcome this chance to get to know us a bit better, through our gift of song.

We knocked, and when the door swung open we burst into “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” employing what had become our standard approach of concealing a lack of melodic capacity with volume and tempo at frenzied levels. Throughout our entire concert, the home’s inhabitants stood in the pool of light just inside the front door, their faces immobilized into masks of polite bewilderment. 

When the final strains of “The 12 Days of Christmas” drifted away to join the coyote chorus nearby, our audience muttered thanks and shut the door quickly, probably eager to go inside and relive the magnificence of the recital. We turned up the driveway, and the handful of us who knew The Neighbors looked at each other for a few seconds. Finally, someone said it: “Those weren’t The Neighbors.”

It turns out The Neighbors had rented out their house for the holiday; we had serenaded their AirBNB guests.

After this year’s caroling, we joked about a plan for next Christmas. We’re going to spend the coming year secretly practicing one beautiful and complicated seasonal song — “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” or “Dona Nobis Pacem,” for example —l earning it in perfect harmony. And then next year when the neighbors throw open the door, fully expecting the dozenth year in a row of fa la la la la, we knock their socks off — or, more likely, the Christmas stockings off the mantle. 

We’ll probably never pull it off, of course, but you never know. After all, ’tis the season for miracles.

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