SHERIDAN — On Friday, area resident Vanessa Buyok was fulfilling a duty asked of her by a friend: attend the Christmas event at Gallery G, ride the trolley and sing a few Christmas carols to help lead event participants into the holiday spirit and add another voice to the chorus.
But as the trolley moved down Main Street and Christmas lights glowed red and green in the foggy windows, something happened to Buyok. Her Christmas caroling was no longer a duty. It became a bridge to Christmases past.
“I grew up in Buffalo, and we’d just jump on a truck with some hay on it, and away we’d go. It was a smalltown get-together; it was fun,” Buyok said. “I guess I still have a 10-year-old mentality in about a 60-year-old body.”
Buyok had not caroled since high school and said singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” took her back to her childhood.
Anna Love was also a caroler on the trolley Friday. She sang nearly every word with a beaming smile.
“I love music. I like the rhythm; I like the melody line; I like the beats; I like it all,” Love said. “Christmas music just makes me very, very happy. I love this time of year.”
And really, that’s about all there is to a Christmas tradition that dates back to the 19th century. Caroling is fun and it brings joy to singers and listeners alike. Its simplicity is its charm.
“Everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime…or once in different ages of life…or, well, once a year, maybe,” Frank Boyko said.
Boyko should know. He was playing Santa Claus for the evening, and Santa knows all about this Christmas holiday.
In medieval times, carols were liturgical songs used for religious processionals.
Carols also have roots in pagan traditions that involved dancing and singing around stones to commemorate the winter solstice, or the shortest day of the year.
Eventually, in the 1800s in Victorian England, people began to combine visiting people and singing to them into one event, according to an article in TIME Magazine.
Wassailing, which is derived from the Old Norse term “ves heill,” meaning “be well and in good health,” became a way to wish good fortune on neighbors by singing to them on their doorstep during holidays — often in hopes of receiving a gift in return. That is why the third verse in “We Wish you a Merry Christmas” contains the now oddball line asking for some figgy pudding.
Caroling door-to-door gained in popularity in the early to mid-1900s, with numerous books and broadsheets of Christmas carols being published, but the tradition has become less mobile in recent years, the TIME article said. More common now is the practice of carolers singing in shopping centers and hospitals like a choir performance.
Still, members of Baptist Collegiate Ministries, a ministry for students at Sheridan College, usually go out door-to-door each Christmas season. They switch the age-old tradition of hoping for gifts in return for their songs and give gifts to the people they meet at each house.
And caroling is alive and well in Sheridan’s elderly care facilities.
At Sheridan Manor on Big Horn Avenue, more than 10 groups of carolers have graced the halls of the nursing home this year.
“It’s important because it brings Christmas here to them,” Sheridan Manor Activities Director Breann Brady said.
Brady said groups of all ages come. For example, on Tuesday a group of carolers from The Gathering Place and The Life House, residential treatment centers that are part of Volunteers of America, will sing and play guitars at Sheridan Manor as a way to give back to the community, Lead Recovery Mentor at The Gathering Place Mike Lash said.
“We wanted to bring some cheer to folks stuck there for the holidays,” Lash said.
Brady said Christmas songs will do the trick. She said when carolers have come in the past, residents tap their toes and sing along and light up with smiles.
“Music pretty much gives us life, I think,” Brady said.