Susan’s Dark Holiday Secret

Before I confess my secret holiday shame, I should lay the ground work.  There are some things you should know.

SingingNunsbyAfrica1)  I go to church for the music.  My faith is spotty at best but I love to sing, & there’s nothing like feeling your way through the alto part of an unfamiliar hymn to wake a girl up.  Plus, when you’re only one of a hundred or so voices, nobody can hear you fumble.  It’s just good, clean fun.

2)  I learned to harmonize from my mom, who knew every alto part to every Christmas carol ever written.  And after a huge holiday dinner, my sisters & I would dry while my mom washed, & we would sing carols.  My dad would wander in to hold down the melody with a few of my less musical sisters but a couple of us would follow my mom & we learned to sing while we made sure Grandma’s silver didn’t spot.

EmptyDishesAfterMealbyKoratmember3)  As a result, I believe that kitchens were made for singing.  And dancing.  I thought all families busted into song at the least provocation.  In my childhood home, you could start a song alone but you wouldn’t hit the chorus before somebody joined in & by the time you got to the bridge, you usually had yourself a kick line going.  I thought this was normal.  Then I had a holiday dinner at my then-fiance-now-husband’s house & let’s just say that I was quickly disabused of this notion.  I won’t go into detail.  We still don’t speak of it.  It was…awkward.

So now that it’s the holidays, you might think that I’m in my glory.  It’s all Christmas carols, all the time up in here.  There’s a radio station here in the Twin Cities that plays nothing BUT Christmas music from Thanksgiving day straight through the new year.  It the one time of year that you have an actual license to go door to door singing in public.  People are even supposed to give you treats or figgy pudding or something.

ChristmasCarolerbyVectorolieBut…are you ready for my big confession?

I hate caroling.

It’s true.  I do.

I dutifully go caroling with my church & my girls’ Scout troops every year & every year I hate it.  It’s awkward.  People don’t know what to do when they encounter large groups of singing people any more.  Do they join in?  Do they smile?  How much?  Are they obligated to hang around for all five verses of Joy to the World, or is it okay to wander off while we’re repeating the sounding joy?

And while we’re on the topic, exactly how many verses are we going to sing here?  This never seems to come up in discussion beforehand, & then suddenly we’re on verse two of something & trying desperately to have this conversation with our eyes.

And I won’t even get into the quagmire of who’s going to pick the key.  And I can’t stress enough how important it is to begin Away in a Manger much, much higher than you think you should.  Always.  But we never do.  Ever.

DenyConfessbyStuartMilesWhich is why I dislike caroling.  There.  So now you know.

I don’t know about you guys, but I feel better.  Confession really must be good for the soul.

That said?  I’m going caroling with the Brownies on Saturday.  Oh, help.

So how about you?  Is there any holiday tradition that you faithfully participate in that nobody knows you hate?  We’re friends.  You can tell us.  Share!

All images courtesy of  Mouse over for artist attribution.



  • Helen says:

    Is he coming back to me ?

    Have Fun

    • Susan Sey says:

      He’s all yours, Helen! And watch out! He’ll snaffle the sugar cookies when you’re not looking. He has something of a sweet tooth. Sweet beak? Whatever. He likes the cookies. Watch out.

  • Helen says:

    Oh Susan

    I love Carols but I am no singer and never have been here in Australia we have a lot of Carols by Candlelight where big groups usually hosted by churches or clubs of some kind get together light candles or torches and sing carols all together we have been to a few of these when the kids were young and although we always had fun they are not something that I jump at going to although I do watch them on TV and sing along (badly LOL)
    Other than that I don’t think there is anything else I am not fond off but I have to say I love carols and there are 3 carol CDs in the player now that I have been playing often 🙂

    Have Fun

    enjoy your caroling 🙂

    • Susan Sey says:

      I’ll try, Helen. I’ll do my very best. 🙂

      Also, I should mention, I’m no great singer. I can carry a tune & I can read music but my voice is nothing to speak of. Completely untrained. I am an enthusiastic car/shower singer & nothing more. But I do love belting out my carols. And showtunes! Just try to stop me when the WICKED soundtrack turns up on random shuffle.

      But I adore huge groups of voices singing traditional songs, especially when they’re just big ol’ groups of enthusiastic amateurs like me. Your giant carol sings sound right up my alley!

  • Jane says:

    Hello Susan,
    We used to sing during the Christmas party at school, but that’s about it. No caroling. Can’t think of any holiday tradition that I participate in that I don’t like.

    • Susan Sey says:

      Aw, no dark holiday secret? I confess myself disappointed. I thought we all had one. Or maybe I was just hoping we all had one, so I could continue to believe I’m not an odd little duck.

      Ah, well. 🙂

  • Amy Conley says:

    I love Christmas caroling also but I usually only sing in the car. Now I will sing with my grand children. and I love Christmas Mass with all the singing and I sing with the choir even though I’m not part of the choir and people give me weird looks but I don’t care.

    other than that don’t really have any Christmas traditions we never really made any or did any other than opening one present on Christmas Eve we were allowed to do that and I love my children do that and I love my grandchildren to do the same.

    • Susan Sey says:

      Amy! It’s like your my sister from another mother! I, too, can’t resist singing with the choir, even though I don’t belong to the choir! I feel it’s my god-given right to sing along with the hallelujah chorus whenever I hear it, sorry.

      Also, my husband’s family does the one gift on Christmas eve thing, too! It was a new one on me, but it’s grown on me. Especially since Mr. Sey usually gives the girls & me little sparkly somethings to wear to midnight mass. He’s a gem, that guy.

  • flchen1 says:

    LOL!! Love it, Susan! I’m not a very good singer, but do enjoy doing it in groups, and wish I’d learned better how to harmonize! I’ve learned the alto parts to one or two hymns, and it’s fun to be able to do that when singing with others 🙂

    As for caroling, I think some of those issues would be somewhat solved with the appointing (by group? by self? by ?) of a leader, even a temporary one. Someone just needs to say, “Joy to the World! First and last verses!” and launch the group in… Because yes, otherwise… awkwardness :/

    Anyway, have fun! How very lovely, Susan!

    • Susan Sey says:

      Hey, Fedora, any chance you can swing by on Saturday afternoon? We’re totally going to need a carol leader & it sounds like you know what you’re doing! We could totally use you. You’re not THAT far away…

      Oh, okay, you are. We’ll have to muddle through somehow. But when we peter off about three verses into Silent Night, I’ll be thinking longingly of you. 🙂

  • Shannon says:

    The last time I was caroling was for a hospital on Christmas Day. I got in trouble with the group because I talked too much to the patients when giving them a stuffed critter, holding up our rounds. I mainly mumbled the carols because I’m one of those who is always off key. But I loved the smiles.

    I do go to services that have carols during the liturgical calender that has the 2nd and sometimes 3rd Sunday of Christmas. So I get my carol singing in after all of you have given up.

    • Susan Sey says:

      Oh, Shannon, I’m with you. When it comes to Christmas, I’m in for ALL 12 DAYS. January’s not good for much else, so I might as well sing. 🙂

      Also, you sound like my kind of caroler. Chatting with patients is always a good thing!

  • Mozette says:

    Actually I’m pretty truthful when it comes to my faiths and traditions. I won’t go to midnight Mass – but Mum will. She loves it, I don’t.

    Okay, I used to be a big church-goer. However, now I’m not. My church was corrupt and didn’t like letting any of their flock go when they found religion didn’t work for them… which I didn’t. I tried to leave a few times, but they either blackmailed me back into it or guilted me back into it – neither thing worked.
    So, I worked palmistry in the back of the church one evening and the pastor caught me. I was at a point where I was wearing a Doors t-shirt, wearing black all the time, had stopped wearing the Christian cross around my neck and in my ears and no longer attended my bible studies on Friday nights… so all that should have been a few clues; but it wasn’t. The pastor caught me and tried to get the congregation to work against me – funnily enough, 3/4 of them had watched me grow up around the area from around 6 months old; so none of them would. So, he threw me out. But he wouldn’t let me use the front door, instead insisting I use the side door at the back of the church. I laughed at him, saying, “Would you like me to kiss you on the way out?”
    My Religious Instruction teacher – Mr Brian Gilmore – burst out laughing when I said that and had to leave the church to go outside, knowing who I had spoken of… well, I thought it very apt. 😛

    After I left, I tried to visit a few times to see my friends – as I hold nothing against them or who they worship – but the pastor wouldn’t allow me into the church.

    So, I’m not really into the church or carolling… it’s just not me. Dad understands why I’m not. But he totally gets it of why I love decorating my house. It’s to get into the spirit of giving… that’s what I love to do – at any time of the year.

    Such a pity my church-going ways have been destroyed when I was younger – but I do find them boring. 🙁

    • Susan Sey says:

      Yep. See this is why my relationship with church is complicated. My relationship with Christmas carols, however, is very pure. Joy in music. Joy in singing. Joy in raising up my voice. That’s all, & that’s enough.

      I’m so glad you’ve held onto the bits that bring you joy & pitched the rest. Good on you!

  • Sandy Blair says:

    Loved reading about your childhood memories! And I agree about caroling. 🙂

  • Oh Susan…you just haven’t gone caroling with the right peeps!!

    I took the kids caroling a time or two and guess what happened? Lynds fell in love with it. So much, that when she was a teen, she’d organize a caroling party with her church and school friends, including her brother Eric’s buddies. I was in charge of making teen-friendly appetizers, (bbq mini sausages, mini pizzas, chips and dip…buckeyes and cookies). They’d go up and down our block, stopping at every house that had Christmas lights up and any that looked like someone was home. (I secretly called this, Lyndsey and her backup singers.) People always wanted to give them $$, which they refused, saying, “We just like caroling.”

    I personally thought all adult caroling parties should start out with mulled wine. Much more fun!

    You should come caroling here, Lynds and I’ll join in…and she sings great harmonies, too. I’ll do the melody! I promise!!

  • catslady says:

    Shopping – I don’t like shopping. Mostly because I never know what to get and I hate making decisions and of course things can get expensive and just having to drive to the mall is an ordeal lol.

    • Susan Sey says:

      Oh, catslady, you’re singing my heart’s song now. Shopping is such a dreary chore. It’s no secret that I hate it though. I’ve been very, very open on that score. 🙂

  • Susan, I so envy people who can sing. They open their mouths, and magic comes out.

    I have a decent ear but cannot consistently carry a tune. This gives me the ability to know I have hit a clinker and wince at it, but not to avoid it in the first place.

    This did not stop me from participating in junior choir or from going caroling with the church youth group. Our church was wonderfully inclusive that way.

    There are no holiday traditions I dislike. I can even deal with the mall if my shopping foray meets with success (thus enabling me to Not Stay Long).

    The dh’s mom used to make lutefisk for Christmas morning when he was growing up, and he was glad to leave that behind, though he makes us Swedish pancakes like the ones that accompanied the lutefisk.

    • Susan Sey says:

      Urgh. I now live in the Land of Lutefisk, so I know *exactly* what you’re talking about. It’s an evil, poisonous substance posing as food. I think it’s a litmus test to keep outsiders out. I’ve never seen anybody actually eat it, so I think it’s an elaborate truth/dare thing.

      I’d rather confess the truth than eat the nastiness that is lutefisk!

  • Cassondra Murray says:

    Hi Susan! What a great blog!

    I have a love-hate relationship with caroling. But as I tend to take charge (not always welcome charge) in any disorganized situation, I generally march in and say, “Okay we’re doing ONE song per house. This is the set list. First two verses only. X will start the song. Here’s the pitch pipe. Let’s go.”

    A pitch pipe, and a little “F” or “D” written beside the song title–that’s the ticket.

    Now for the hate part–You won’t find a person of deeper faith on the planet, but I don’t go to church now, as I put in enough hours during my first 20 years of life to make up for two lifetimes and I’m not much interested in having someone else tell me how I should live. However, I have, so many times, considered going back just for the choir. Steve is a fabulous bass, and I’m an alto naturally, but can sing soprano if I need to. Totally untrained like you, but I once made my living singing, so I figure I’ll do.

    But church sucks your life if you even let them see you hiding in the bushes, so I’m not going anywhere near that.

    My favorite caroling situations have been the four kids in our family going to nursing homes caroling. The patients love it, and we each naturally fall into a part because we’ve sung together enough to make it happen. We are so scattered geographically that this has happened only a few times in my life, but they are good memories. Family harmony, because of the genetics, is the best it gets.

    • Susan Sey says:

      Oh Cassondra, you make me want to drive across the Midwest to get to you so we can go caroling. I knew–just *knew*–you’d have the answers for me!

      And probably a pitch pipe. 🙂

      And your point about the time-suck that is church is well taken, as I am currently heading a committee I have no business even touching. But nobody else will touch it, & we need Sunday school so….

      But, yeah. It’s the music. I’m in it for the music.

  • Oh Susan – I’d love to come to your place for dinner. Impromptu singing and dancing – I’m in!

    I love caroling, I truly do. But, alas, no one does it here. Apparently one must be part of an organized and well-rehersed choir and then sing only at the mall. I took my little cub scouts out one Christmas and we caroled door-to-door, but that was a long time ago. (sigh)

    I enjoy most holiday traditions – except wrapping gifts. I’ve wrapped so many, I’m all wrapped out. I’ve become a fan of reuseable gift bags and printed-with-holiday-theme boxes. My absolute favorite service at a store is if they provide free gift wrapping – I will buy everything at that store just to avoid hassling with scissors, tape and paper. There. I’ve said it.

    Now I have to go wrap gifts purchased for the relatives (sigh).

    • Susan Sey says:

      Confession IS good for the soul, see?

      Confidentially, I think those fancy printed boxes are the cat’s meow.

      And you’re welcome for dinner any old time! We’d sing & dance & have ourselves a ball!

  • Susan, your blogs always crack me up – and make me sad that you live so far away. I want all that wonderful snark available to me in person. So clearly you need to move. Laughed at you bursting into song and people not knowing what to do about it. I do that too – although I think the fact that I’m such an awful singer contributes to the embarrassment – and it hasn’t been a popular move. Sigh. Songs are made for repeating. Unless they’re carols in November!

  • Dianna aka Hrdwrkdmom says:

    No traditions I participate in now, I feel I finally reached an age where if I don’t want to I am not going to.

    For the record, had you burst into song around me, I would have joined you. Also for the record, I can’t sing a lick!

  • Deb says:

    Hey, Susan! I love to sing, and know many hymns. I grew up in a very musically-oriented church. Think choir, trumpets, organ, Bach. I am like you and Cassondra. I used to enjoy church, but it seems that the last 2 years I have no “want” to go. I have my faith and I love my church family,….and the hymns sung in this little church are blah.
    I used to go caroling a lot when I was a girl, then college friends and I went a lot, and the teachers used to go. Actually, our entire school is going on Monday. We split up around town and two afternoon shifts, all 325 kids and 28 teachers and paras. LOVE it, and we have been doing this for about 20 years!
    I hate to shop. Period.

    • Susan Sey says:

      Wow, that sounds like some well-organized caroling! I think I might actually enjoy that!

      And I’m totally with you on the shopping. The internet is seriously the best thing that ever happened to me, shopping-wise!