Every Christmas one of the most cherished activities in my adorable little hometown of Basking Ridge, NJ was the annual “Christmas Eve Carol Sing” on the town green. Yes, that’s right, you heard me…a CHRISTMAS CAROL Sing (not holiday or season’s greetings) right smack in the center of town for all to see and celebrate. Very little has changed about this town tradition since 1924.
Picture it with me: you are dressed in your very best finery for Christmas Eve service either coming from your local church service, or as an anticipated stop on your way. The whole family goes to the town green, flashlights in hand, along with hundreds of your closest friends and neighbors. There are no parking garages or even many parking lots, but you don’t mind the walk from the side streets that feed into the green; you are joining others as you head toward downtown Basking Ridge. As you arrive, and take your favorite spot (just as you do in church) you are greeted by the sound of the volunteer brass band warming both their instruments and themselves underneath the glorious lit Christmas tree, settled in next to an American flag. You send your youngest child out amongst the crowd, without the slightest fear of losing them or having any harm come to them to secure one or more of the worn and tattered song sheets printed two-sided on light green paper.
You greet your neighbors with a bright “Merry Christmas,” kisses on the checks and sincere hugs. And before you know it, a joyous “it’s starting” refrain is heard throughout the crowd, and all faces turn to the tree to start singing the familiar tunes that have lasted throughout the generations.
At the end of the Carol Sing, three trumpeters pop out of the little round window at the peak of the church that flanks the green to play Silent Night. The event ends with the church bells ringing all over town as the crowd begins to hug each other farewell as they head off to church or home.
The tradition has gone on through every kind of weather, and no one would consider missing it. In fact, more than once, God has shown his delight during this event by sending a soft snow during the Carol Sing. The local paper, The Bernardsville News, noted that, “Last year, the snow began to fall right on cue at 7 p.m.” No surprise to any current or previous Basking Ridge resident.
Two years ago my family joined my parents in their retirement home in Hilton Head Island for Christmas. They invited some of their friends over for Christmas Dinner, some of whom had also lived in Basking Ridge. After the meal, my father surprised us with some of the original Christmas Eve Carol Sing song sheets on the familiar green paper. We sat at the dining room table (as standing is not quite as enjoyable for my parents and their friends, all now in their 80s) and sang our way through the song sheet. I could see every eye twinkle with the memory of our own little Who-ville.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of this quaint and spirit-filled activity, and I will be imagining it fondly as I sing carols in church on Christmas Eve. I feel blessed beyond measure to have had this experience and to have shared it with my husband, family and closest friends. I also feel blessed to know that it has survived the pressures to push the real focus of Christmas to the side of our lives. At least somewhere, on Christmas Eve, you can join me in knowing that an entire town is singing Christmas carols, real Christmas carols, in perfect unison to the newborn King!
In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, “The sound wasn’t sad. Why, this sound sounded merry…Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, was singing! Without any presents at all! He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same.”