Whatever happened to …

… caroling?

Thanks for the idea for this post, Aviva Dunsiger.  Aviva posted this suggestion on the Padlet.

Christmas carols in schools … or even holiday songs! There used to be a collection of songs that we all knew and all sang at holiday times, and now children know so few of them. This was like our shared culture around music. What might be lost now?



I can recall when it was a significant event in my elementary school.  For at least the week before Christmas, the entire school convened in the gymnasium.   A few of us from Grade 8 went to the music room and we wheeled in the piano for the music teacher.  After the morning national anthem and prayer, we sat down and listened to the announcements.  I don’t recall the specifics of the announcements after all these years except for warnings about snowball fights.

Then, as a school, we sang a number of selections from the Carol sheet.  It looked something like this.  (Pinterest link – not sure of the copyright so won’t include an image of it here.)  After four or five carols, we all returned to our classrooms for the rest of the day.  Except for those of us who dragged our heels returning the piano to the music room, of course.

Thinking back, it was pretty amazing to have the entire school in the gymnasium singing as a community.  Every now and again, there was a student who was picked from the crowd and asked to leave to sit in the hallway and yet I don’t remember it being a big problem.  There were also a few students who didn’t sing or had other academic things to do besides being in the gymnasium with us.

Caroling was more than a school event; I sang in the church choir and it was a big event for the church.  We practiced and practiced to be perfect for the choir service.  It was also my biggest singing embarrasing moment.  I still remember practice being halted because “something was wrong” and a finger was pointed at me.

This adolescent was asked to move from the one side of the choir to the other.  I was now singing with the men because I could no longer hit the high notes.  It was tramatic – and quite boring – I think it marked the end of my signing career.  These days, I just get strange looks from the dog when singing while we walk.

It wasn’t just at church and at school that we sang carols.  As a member of the Boy Scouts, we would also go to the seniors’ home to sing for the residents.  The one thing about a Scout Troup and a school session was that your lack of hitting the high notes didn’t stand out like they did in a church choir.  At least, nobody complained.

Throughout all these experiences, there was one thing that strikes me.  They were all community events where we were drawn together by song.  But, we can’t overlook the fact that many of the carols carried a religious message as well.

Things are different these days and the diversity within the school has led to the disbanding of activities like these.  Christmas concerts in the evening have now become holiday concerts in public schools.  Songs are carefully chosen to make sure that they appeal to a general audience.  Those who look specifically for Christmas carols are better off looking at churches for a solution.

And yet, when you think about it, the same approach and collection of songs could still be used in schools and be inclusive to all students.

On this Sunday morning, what are your thoughts?

  • Does your school still have a community approach to singing carols or winter songs?
  • Do you recall a time when you sang carols together as a school?
  • Does anyone else remember the Simpson’s songsheets?
  • Did you ever have a chance to go to the Simpson’s store in downtown Toronto for their annual caroling event?
  • Is caroling a thing in your community outside of churches?
  • Were you ever asked to move from the Soprano section to the Bass section of a group of singers?  Did you handle it as ungraciously as I did?

I’d be interested in your thoughts.  Please enter them via comment below.

All of the posts from the “Whatever happened to …” series are available here.  They’re fun to write and I really enjoy reading other’s opinions on the topic.

If you have an idea for a topic like Aviva did, please add it to the Padlet.  If you’d like to be anonymous, that’s OK.

10 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Thanks for writing about this topic, Doug! I remember caroling from my school days, and even remember people starting the morning singing carols in the gym for the week before Christmas holidays. This was a real community event.

    At our school, during the holiday concert, one of the teachers leads the students in carols during transitional times. It always makes me a little sad how few carols kids know. These songs used to join us together, help us link to special holiday memories, and even create feelings of joy during the holidays. I miss this! (And just for the record, I’m Jewish and I still know the words to every Christmas carol.)

    I wonder if there’s a way to enjoy the carols and still recognize the various backgrounds of our staff and students. Could this just be a small part of what we do during the holidays? Music does bring people together, and I kind of miss this about carol sings. Thanks for another trip down memory lane!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the idea, Aviva. I spent a lot of time looking for a copy of the Simpson’s Carol Sheet but couldn’t find one. Just the cover in the link I included in the post. Strange since you’re supposed to be able to find everything you want on the interwebs.

    I’m taking a guess that you went to a Public School. It would be interesting if someone who went to and now teaches at a Catholic School to read their thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Doug,
    I continue to enjoy your Sunday morning “What Ever Happened to…” posts!
    I’m happy to report that we still gather together in the gym as a school community to begin the last day before Christmas holidays. It’s at that time that our students watch a video that captures a long running tradition of Christmas giving at our school. Our grade 5 and 6 leaders host a “Spirit of Christmas Sale” for the younger students and then on the Thursday before Christmas break they take the proceeds earned to a local grocery store to buy food items for the less fortunate which they hand deliver to our local shelter house. It’s heart warming to see all the kids smile as they watch together to see how they all helped to make a difference at Christmas. The video is then followed by a Christmas carol sing along.
    It’s Christmas traditions like these that I love hearing about. You can read a large collection of similar stories here- https://give4christmaschallenge.wordpress.com/ I believe these traditions instil in our kids the true meaning of Christmas…. peace, joy, togetherness and giving to others.
    Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing your story, Peter. That’s terrific that you have traditions like that at your school and actively encourage them. The underlying message continues with Made A Difference.


  5. Hi Doug (and others),

    I just went upstairs to check with my daughter (a Catholic school attendee) about her experiences. She said that in elementary school, they definitely gathered in the gym and sang all sorts of Christmas songs. Even in high school (she’s in Grade 12 now), either the AP kids or the music taking kids would gather by the Christmas tree in the foyer to sing/play Christmas songs.

    I’m in a public school and we do sing holiday songs (and just a few years ago, that included religious ones). I like Aviva’s question: how CAN we enjoy carols and recognize different backgrounds? This isn’t easy. At one point, we did a mini-explanation before each song, to teach about the history or cultural relevance – this didn’t work because it’s hard to teach a gym-full of students from JK-8. Eliminating the overtly-religious ones is fine, but then it might give a very skewed, secular, and possibly overly commercial version of this time of year. Having said that, we sang about Frosty, Rudolph, and Santa and the kids seemed to enjoy it.

    I notice that on the radio station I listen to on the way home from school (CHFI) that they play all Christmas music, all December, and that it includes religious songs and ones with questionable messages (I can never look at “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time / Feed the World” the same way again!)

    Thanks for the thinking – Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ll dive in. The schools I teach at have had a variety of traditions….my current school gathers on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the last week before the holiday, and spends part of each morning singing. It’s a mix of carols (those are the religious ones) and holiday songs. The school I was at before that sang together for the middle block of the last day, and we purposely took the religious carols out. Not for inclusion reasons really, but because when 10 of 400 kids have sung them before (at church), and 1/3 of the room can’t sight read the words on screen, it can get pretty chaotic pretty fast.

    Why don’t the kids know the words? Why don’t they sing? For the most part, because they are being taught by people who don’t sing. Take a listen to your junior/intermediate classes, and tell me how many sing as part of music, or just as part of their day? How many teachers have a guitar or piano-playing ability, so they can lead their students in song? And then, all of a sudden, we expect them to know what to do on a singalong? As we become more and more musically illiterate, and fewer of us are singing in community or church choirs, it cannot be surprising that our students don’t know the words. Last year, when I had my students share favourite music, almost all the boys brought in music without words (video game or video soundtracks). How many parties do you go to these days where someone pulls out a guitar, and it becomes a performance, because no one else is brave enough to sing.

    One of my favourite teaching memories took place at a local Remembrance Day service. We walked our Grade 7 and 8 students down to the service every year. As the service moved into the singing of Abide
    With Me, I took out my program and started to sing, 2 of my Grade 8 girls (forever known as the Maddy’s) moved to either side of me and began to sing with me . One was a member of our local children’s choir, the other sang at church. I cannot tell you the number of teary seniors who approached the 3 of us after, telling us what a joy it had been for them to hear young voices singing. It’s a gift, and we have, largely, lost the ability to give it.

    I, too, Doug, was asked to move to the back, and eventually to not sing in primary choirs, because I have been an alto, pretty much since I can remember. I remember the teacher who shamed me and asked me not to sing every time I anchor the low harmony part at church, or in a local choir. I love to sing, it gives me joy, and it saddens me when people at concerts or public events give me the stink-eye when I sing the anthem proudly. It saddens me that many of my students are not being given that opportunity.

    And yes, Doug, thanks for the memory – I did sing from Simpson’s carol sheets, in my elementary school gym!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you Diana and Lisa, for continuing the thoughts. You brought it to a new level in the singing just for enjoyment piece. It makes you wonder if we don’t find a way to make it happen, whether this will be a thing that just doesn’t happen. We talk about mindfulness and stress, singing for some can be just the little bit of joy that they need. The other thing about music sheets is the actual reading and learning of the lyrics. Aviva mentioned about how we know the lyrics and they just come out when you hear the music is generally pretty correct. Not like this – http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/misheard-song-lyrics_n_5568769


  8. I sometimes think the Christmas singalong is one of those things we do for the grown ups. We need to figure out if it’s still something our students want/need, or if there’s other singing we could do with our students to create new traditions for all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

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