Here We Come A-Caroling

Here we come a-caroling

Among the leaves so green!

Here we come a-wandering,

So fair to be seen!

As soon as December rolls around in our house, I pull out the Christmas CD’s. After all, I own at least 50 different ones, so I have to start early to get through them all. Show up unannounced at my place and you will probably catch me singing in my best operatic voice to Handel’s Messiah, crooning along with Elvis to Blue Christmas or belting out All I Want for Christmas in my wanna-be Mariah Carey rendition.

My love affair with Christmas carols started at a young age. On Friday afternoons we held musical programs in the elementary grades and later as a teenager I sang in the high school Glee Club (yes, we had one long before the TV version).

And it wasn’t just carols in the English language that I loved. Growing up in a Ukrainian household meant that I learned the words to several popular Ukrainian carols as well. I remember going caroling with my cousin to a few, select older residents in town and the joy it brought these seniors. We were joyful, too, when a few gave us money for our efforts, but as I recall my mother made us return the money so our joy was short-lived.

When I was attending university, caroling took on a whole new dimension. I lived in residence, Mohyla Institute to be exact, and many of the students would go caroling to raise much-needed funds. Groups would be dispatched to various Ukrainian “hot spots” in the province and the locals always looked forward to these excursions and welcomed the students with great warmth and hospitality.

As custom dictates, any treats offered by the hosts must be accepted with gratitude since a refusal is considered to be disrespectful. So at each house we graciously accepted some snacks or light refreshments. Most were very understanding if we declined any offers of alcoholic beverages, but some of our patrons were very insistent and would not take no for an answer; however, they were usually more considerate of the girls and their tastes.

At one house we girls were offered wine instead of the hard stuff, so we gladly accepted. That was a mistake! It was a homemade potato wine that bore a striking resemblance to a bad whiskey. It took sheer willpower to finish that drink and had there been a plant nearby it would have received a watering (most likely a fatal one).

So at the next house when the little old gent offered the girls vodka or wine, we decided that vodka might be a safer option. As he poured the shot glasses, he proudly explained that he had made it himself (oh,oh!). The look on our faces must have revealed our misgivings, so he quickly assured us that the vodka (a cover name for homebrew) was very good, but he would give the girls a raspberry chaser to help soothe the after effects. He was so sweet and so eager to please us that we relented and agreed to accept the drinks.

With a “Nazdarovya” and a customary clinking of glasses, down went the shooter and surprisingly it was very smooth and left a nice warm glow in my stomach. So I looked at my friend, raised my chaser glass and knocked it back. Another mistake! The “vodka” I could handle but that chaser was the most lip-puckering, teeth-clenching, eye-watering concoction I had ever swallowed. Let’s just say that it put Buckley’s cough mixture to shame! I weakly smiled at our host and nodded my appreciation, as I wasn’t sure if I could speak.

After that experience I suddenly developed a mysterious medical condition (or so I told all the folks we visited who insisted I have a drink) which didn’t allow me to consume alcohol. I figured that was the only way I could survive and continue doing what I love to do most during the festive season – sing Christmas carols.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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