Melissa’s Rap: About 15 years ago around this time of year, I was working for a non-profit organization in Central Florida. The Executive Director, still one of my favorite people on the planet, asked me to put a group together that would carol at a local hospital. I had no idea where to start, but I started calling around and eventually found someone who could help. We had a small group attend and it was an amazing experience.
My sister, Sarah, also attended. Neither one of us can carry a tune, but it honestly didn’t matter. Even when we had smaller groups, no one cared if we sounded like professionals. Our presence during a difficult time for the patients and their families was enough.
Long after that first year, even after I had left the non-profit, Sarah and I kept the tradition alive. For twelve years, we caroled at local hospitals. Some years, there was only ten of us. Once we had over forty. Regardless of the number of participants, we always had an effect on the patients, and they always had a profound effect on us. After Sarah moved away, I let the annual tradition lapse. It was always great to plan it together each year and so special to be together for such a special evening. It was difficult to imagine hosting it alone, and finding the energy and time to organize it on my own seemed daunting.
But, it really isn’t difficult. Here are some easy steps to starting your own tradition of caroling at a local hospital:
1. Find a Hospital: Decide on one or two hospitals you would be interested in caroling at; or you may consider caroling at a local medical center or retirement home. Once you have your list, call the main number and ask to speak to the Activities Director. That is always a great place to start. Let them know you are interested in bringing a group in and see if they would allow that. If so, ask what the requirements and restrictions are. Most hospitals will have you sign a waiver, and some locations will prohibit kids from participating.
Here are some questions to ask:
- Can we bring food for the nurses stations? (We liked to bring tins of homemade cookies for the doctor’s and nurses. Due to food restrictions, it isn’t typically safe to hand them out to patients).
- Can we bring individually wrapped peppermint candies for the patients? (Some locations allowed this.)
- Is it OK for someone to bring an instrument? (We had a repeat caroler who brought his guitar each year, and a young caroler who brought his violin. It was always a nice touch and those of us who can’t sing really appreciated the accompaniment.)
- How large a group can we have? (Some locations will split you into groups if you are too large.)
- Who will be our contact the evening of? (This is important because you could spend a lot of time waiting while the hospital staff and/or volunteers try to figure out who you are meeting.)
- Where is the best place to park and where should we meet inside? Do you have a map you can email me, so that I can pass it on to the carolers? (The more specific you can be with your carolers, the better experience they will have, and the increased chance you’ll start on time.)
2. Get the Word Out: Create an online invite, using Facebook, Evite or another method. Give as much information as you can: Date, Time, Location, What to Bring (we’ll talk about that in a minute) and anything else your carolers would need to know (if kids are allowed, parking information, etc.)
3. Create Song Books: This is important. You want to make sure you are all on the same page, figuratively speaking. We learned our first couple of years that it helps to all be looking at the same lyrics, and if you can find songs with sheet music, that is even better.
We just found songs online from different sites and pieced the book together. Here is a site to get you started: Christmas Carol Song Book (leonalai.com). Here is another one that has sheet music, some of which also have lyrics: Favorite Christmas Carols (freesheetmusic.net). Avoid the more complex songs (unless you have an experienced caroling group); Stick with the classics.
Another tip: decide ahead of time how many verses you will want to sing. Some Christmas songs have a lot of verses that you may have never even heard. Trust me when I say, that can get awkward when you have ten or twenty people trying to sing parts they don’t know. Make a note at the top of the page of what verses you will sing and cross out the others before making copies.
Finally, we bought some inexpensive report covers, made a cheesy cover page and created several copies. They have lasted a long time and have been a great tool year after year!
4. Get a Hat: As you can see from the picture, we encouraged our carolers to wear fun, festive hats so they can bring the cheer in a big way.
5. Have fun! This is a very meaningful activity that you and your fellow carolers will remember for years to come. Enjoy every minute. And remember to take a group picture in the lobby before you get started!
Writing this out really made me nostalgic for my days of caroling past. I think it may be time to get the
band, I mean group, back together again. I just added contacting the local hospitals to my To Do List.
I can’t wait to hear about your caroling experience! Be sure to share your group photo with us next month!
Have you ever been Christmas Caroling? How was your experience? Do you have any trips to share? If you take a group caroling this year, please let us know!
Oh how I miss these caroling events! Now that I live far away, I too need to start one up locally. It won’t be the same without you, but caroling at the hospitals is a great way to give to others and always made me feel so good to see the smiles on the faces of patients, their families and nurses! My kids also frequently reminisce about our caroling outings and I am thankful we were allowed to take children with us. Thanks for posting about this, Melissa, and reminding me of that I too can organize something in my new hometown and start spreading cheer and goodwill. ~ Sarah