I was raised in a large, somewhat crazy, absolutely awesome family. Sometime during December every year, my mom would bake festive cookies and arrange them onto plates. Had we simply been able to enjoy eating them around the kitchen table – as I was pretty sure most families did with their holiday treats — those cookies would have simply looked yummy.
But they were far from simply yummy, because we knew that they meant us having to decide on a name for the list. Each of us had to contribute a name, no exceptions.
When we were young, it was easy. But during our teenage years, name choosing was excruciating. We spent hours agonizing, carefully selecting people based on how far removed they were from our social network. Generally speaking, even the best of friends couldn’t be trusted to remain silent.
Silence was essential because it would not do to have details of our family’s cookie delivery method spreading like wildfire through the halls of the high school. In our family, ringing the doorbell and saying Merry Christmas while handing over a plate of cookies was too mundane.
Every year, the teenagers made it a point to explain to my mom that Christmas caroling had become obsolete around the turn of the century. Mom remained unmoved. To her, caroling was just as much a part of Christmas as the tree and the gifts underneath it. So we climbed into the car and went caroling every year — come hail, high water, or eye rolling teenagers.
We posed a formidable caroling assemblage. I remember when a teenage boy once opened his front door and visibly flinched when he saw us standing on his front porch belting out Christmas cheer (with varying degrees of enthusiasm). His parents hadn’t briefed him on caroling protocol before leaving for the evening (after all, why would they?) and the poor kid had no idea how to proceed.
So he stood there bravely, shifting uncomfortably, until he could finally grab the cookies and mumble “thanks” before shutting the door. As a fellow teenager, I empathized deeply with the ordeal we had put him through and felt he had earned the right to eat every last cookie on that plate.
One year, our final cookie plate was to be delivered to family who lived about 30 minutes away. We trudged wearily through the darkness onto the porch, rang the doorbell, and began singing. The door was cautiously opened by complete strangers (next door neighbors of the intended recipients). Following my parents’ frantic hand signals, my youngest sister slid the cookie plate behind her back while we hurriedly finished our song, shouted an apologetic “Merry Christmas,” and trotted next door.
That one still makes me cringe. The least we could have done is hand over the cookies.
But mainly, responses to our Christmas cheer were overwhelmingly positive. Clapping, smiling, singing along, dancing, giggling, crying. At some point in the evening – often despite ourselves – our hearts would be moved by someone’s reaction and we would feel more than just cold. It was then that I would understand on some level why Mom insisted we go and didn’t just give in to our pleading to just let us stay home and eat the cookies (which would have been much easier, the way I saw it).
That was a decades ago.
This year, I know exactly how my teenagers will react when they see the cookies I bake sometime this month. “No one on the planet carols anymore, Mom!” they will explain, panicky, begging me to reconsider.
But I will remain resolute. And probably throw in a bribe or two. And remind them that their dad brings his guitar along, which makes our caroling super cool. Or as close to cool as caroling can get.
I’m the first to admit that caroling can be a difficult pill to swallow, especially for those who weren’t born into over-the-top caroling families like mine. But continuing (or beginning) traditions that help our families feel – and remember — the holiday spirit is always worthy of our time and best efforts.
Especially when we get to embarrass eye-rolling teenagers in the process.
Susie Boyce is a mom, writer and public speaker based in Highland Village. Read her column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette, visit her website at www.seriousmomsense.com or her Facebook page, Writer Susie Boyce, or follow her on Twitter @Susie_Boyce.