During Advent in Germany, I’m so thrilled to go to Church for Christmas caroling. Before mass, I’m pumping up the jams all morning with the best hits from the 15th, 16th and 17th century. Those American jingle tingle Christmas songs don’t touch my dark German soul. I need Carols that are written and produced during the Thirty Year’s War. With blood and tears on sheet music. With lyrics, so depressing it’s hard to tell if it’s a German Christmas Carol or Emomusic. „Maria walks amid the thorns“, „I lay in death’s deepest night“, „Oh come, comfort us here in the vale of tears“. Just to name some lyrics from my favorite evergreens.
Since I spent the Holidays in the USA, I gave American Carols one last try. I attended a Public Christmas Caroling in a small town in Northern California.
I was studying the obituaries in the local newspaper when I saw an ad for the event. „Bring jingle bells, a drum and fancy hats. And be prepared to carol at various locations throughout the downtown area. Sheet music will be provided“. Count Ingrid in!!! I’m going!!!
We met at the local museum (that actually looked more like a high school history project. „Okay, every student pick one topic of our home town’s history. Use as many different fonts as possible, print it out and pin it on a flip chart”).
More than 100 people came to sing. It was so crowded. No one gave a damn about keeping a safe distance from the exhibits. Sorry, hand forged garden rake from the 18th century.
In the middle of the building was our choir conductor, who actually wasn’t a real choir conductor. He was as much of a choir conductor, as a butcher is a doctor, when he is one of the last survivors of a remote island airplane crash. But he had the loudest voice, the funniest hat and the jolliest appearance. He was our best conductor!
He started the songs on random notes and it took usually the first two verses for the group to decide on a mutual tune. Mostly pushed by the louder voices of two experienced and apparently competitive female choir singers. C-sharp minor! No, C-flat major! No! Competing like the last two bidders at an art auction.
We sang five songs in closed sessions. Which was good. Because instead of getting into the groove, we got out of groove more and more. We were not only off tune but also off rhythm. Due to the overuse of bells and drums that the newspaper ad called for.
Nevertheless, we went outside and stormed our first location: the city’s hotel lobby. Where a handful of people were enjoying a quiet evening by the fire place with a glass of wine. Until we came. A wild horde of Carolers. And bellowed our earsplitting serenade, that none of the six hotel guests asked for. It was so much fun! We left without explanation. And like a flash mob, that wouldn’t get any clicks on youtube.
For more Christmas Caroling, we went into a bar, all of us, and sang „Silent Night“. Which was echoed by some drunks with „GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!!!“. Can’t force the jolly Christmas mood on everybody, can you.
We also caroled while walking. But the people in the front sang different songs than the people in the back. And the people in the middle, like children of divorced parents, were unsure which side to pick. I finally let my German sense of order go and enjoyed the moment. And switched happily back and forth between „Frosty the Snowman“ and „Jingle Bells“.
Singing songs about snow in sunny California feels like fraud. But even here it does get cold outside believe it or not. It was actually freezing at night. Which is good. Because it separated the wheat from the chaff singers. After a while, all amateurs had left. About 25 hardcore Carolers, including me, stayed. We could have probably spontaneously performed Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.
We formed up around the City Plaza’s Christmas Tree and sang „Oh Tannenbaum“. In German! I sang aggressively loud, so people could tell how good I am at German. Sadly, no one said anything to me, though.
Suddenly, some very old man next to me randomly gave me a burnt CD. „These are my favorite Christmas songs” he said. An Eighty-year old just gave me a mixtape!! How sweet is that!! But shortly afterwards, my German ingrown skepticism kicked in. I was afraid it was something like in The Ring. Whoever listens to it dies seven days later. You’re only safe from Santa Samara, if you pass along a copy of the CD. And make someone else listen to Christmas songs by Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey and Rod Stewart.
It’s been seven days now. And I can say I am still alive. And still blessed about this special Christmas Carol experience. American Carols, I like you after all, when sung off-tune with a hundred people inside a bar in a small town in Northern California.
All photos in this Christmas Caroling post were taken during the longest hike in the Presidio Park in San Francisco and during the longest drive to the Lighthouse Point Reyes just ten thousand winding roads north of San Francisco.