“Quoi?” MB calls out from the kitchen.
“Quoi what?” I say this before the redundancy of it computes in my mind.
He steps out of the kitchen and into the living room where I am dancing like a maniac and going through my Christmas songs on Itunes to sort out a playlist for our upcoming party. I grab his hand and make him dance with me which gets a laugh…one of his classic laughs in which I can tell he is trying really hard not to but can’t help it.
He kisses me on the cheek which is my cue to stop. “What is this wassailing?”
“Oh,” I respond, putting “Here We go a-Wassailing”* on mute. “You know, it’s to… “wassail.” This seems like a totally logical answer to me.
“You don’t know what it means, do you?”
“YES, of course I do, I sang this song when I was a kid! Gaw!” I have no idea what it is to “wassail.”
“So, what is it?” He puts a hand on his hip and stands over my computer.
“Hold on…” I say, as I google it quickly. “Huh…it is: 1 : an early English toast to someone’s health
2 : wild drinking : REVELRY.”
“So it is a Christmas carol about getting wasted?” He asks me this with amusement on his face.
“No way, it can’t be,” I look up “wassailing” as opposed to the noun form “wassail” hoping there is some translation change; it isn’t much better. “”Wassailing,” I read, “To go on a wild drinking spree.”
MB bursts out laughing.
“It also means to drink to someone’s health!” I will defend “wassailing” forever!
He pats me on the head and walks back to the kitchen. My whole childhood has just morphed into an old English drinking song.
When I was little I was a Girl Scout. We had meetings once a week and events like camping (okay so camping in cabins not in tents but get real…we have bears in Tennessee) and selling Girl Scout cookies throughout the year. I remember learning how to light a match, how to sew a button (quit giving me that look, Mom, just because I don’t do it well doesn’t mean I don’t know how), and I can still pick out poison oak. Somewhere in the attic there is a sash with badges on it and I still keep in touch with a few girls from my troop and one of them even came to my wedding this year.
Every Christmas my Mother (a “forever” Girl Scout) would get the girls together over at our house and take us caroling in the neighborhood. My Mother an avid…dare I say “hardcore”, caroler loved the tradition and so did I. It was awesome and SO much cooler than it sounds…I swear. We would all meet at someone’s house and dress up in super warm clothes and drink hot chocolate and afterwards we would have a cookie party. It was fun to go out into a cold wintery night with all your best friends and sing songs to strangers. Carolers are often made fun of in movies or on sitcoms but let’s face it – in this day in age it is pretty amazing to have a bunch of strangers show up at your door and sing songs to you for no other reason than to spread some cheer.
I remember one year in particular back in the late 80’s. After the adults made sure we were all warmly attired in our totally cool purple, green, and fuchsia winter wear (I’m just assuming…I did say late 80’s) we set out with our song books into the wily streets of High Point Terrace in Memphis (this will be funny to anyone from Memphis). We went to house after house singing our songs and generally being “ooh’d” and “awe’d” over by all the folks in the neighborhood (perhaps another reason we all loved Christmas caroling…a nice little ego boost if I do say so).
Only a few doors down from my house we came and knocked on a door. Now let me give a little lesson in caroling for you novices out there, it’s not like you ring the doorbell and wait to take requests; you ring or knock and then get going with your song – if the people living there don’t like it then they are scrooges, plain and simple. At this house my Mother whispered to us to start singing “Silent Night.” The porch stayed quiet as we began our song and we started to wonder if they were going to open the door; we could see people in there. Suddenly the door swung wide and the whole family was standing there. I remember having a very odd sensation of seeing so much light around them as we stood on the dark porch. While we sang I noticed their arms going around each other and hugs being given, heads rested on shoulders, a couple of the people even cried. We had never made such an impact. Later my Mother explained to us that the man who had lived there had died a few days ago and that the family was there comforting each other.
It was a special moment in my life, maybe it was a special moment in theirs. Maybe it is a story that they still tell in their family about the night that Grandpa died and little girls showed up at the door during the wake and sang “Silent Night.” We didn’t understand while we were singing what had happened and we only sort of understood later but I understand now and it can still bring a tear to my eye thinking about it; thinking about the fact that the simplest acts that you commit in your life can bring a sense of peace, a sense of thankfulness, a sense of joy and love to a complete stranger…and sometimes when they need most to not feel alone in this world. I understand that often God or the Universe or Mother Nature, or whatever you believe in will use you as a tool for good even when you aren’t trying.
When I asked my Mother about this story to make sure I was telling it right she was so pleased that I remembered caroling and had happy memories of it. She told me that the reason she always hosted this party was because of a memory she had when she was a little girl. “It was probably only once in my life – one year,” she wrote, “The cold, the holiday season, the thrill of singing with others, the smiles on the other side of the doorway. I still recall the intense delight I felt.” It’s funny, isn’t it? That two women in different stages in their life still think about and remember fondly singing to strangers a few times when they were children.
My Mother said that when we would go caroling sometimes people would try to give us money. They would want to know why we were caroling, they assumed we were doing it for something. Well…we were. Maybe it sounds cheesy and maybe it is too trite for some people but we were just doing it to spread cheer.
So, “Wassail” my friends! Drink an extra glass of egg nogg or vin chaud, be unnecessarily cheerful, sing songs too loudly, and allow yourself to be used in the crafting of someone’s happy holiday memories.
*Note – there are two different “Wassailing” songs around the holidays and neither is for Christmas but for the New Year. There is “Here we go a –wassailing” and there is also (my favorite) “Wassail, Wassail”.
Happy Holidays Everyone! I’ll be back in the New Year!!