Wait?! Caroling is dead?! The I had a very strange and vivid hallucination last December.
My opening question may have come across wrong. I know that carolling still exists. It's just that I couldn't recall any recent instances of seeing/hearing carolling firsthand. But just because I haven't seen it firsthand myself in the last thirty years or so doesn't mean I think carolling has become extinct. That's why I was asking for other people's experiences and recollections regarding carolling and other perhaps more obscure Christmas rituals.
Although hardly obscure I do recall being bundled up when I was small on Christmas Eve to go to evening mass before returning home to greet Christmas at midnight. Everyone present would wish each other "Joyeux Noel" and hug and kiss and then gifts would be opened. After about an hour or so we would all sit down for a small meal of cold meats, cheese, salads, potatoes and meat pies and other treats. Then after a little more socializing visitors would depart and those remaining would go to bed, sufficiently tired to fall asleep right away. This kind of Christmas Eve festivity could last easily until 3 or 4 in the morning. Of course, as we all aged Christmas Eve mass eventually fell by the wayside and the festivities ended earlier and earlier as guests became fewer. Now we still stay up to greet Christmas at midnight and open our gifts, but we might eat our small meal before midnight and we're usually in bed by 2am at the latest and often earlier. The absence of small kids playing with toys and charging the atmosphere with their energy doesn't encourage adults to stay up later. But I'm sure the kind of Christmases I remember as a child are still practiced somewhere among other French Canadian families, particularly where there may be large family gatherings with a good number of small kids.
My parents recall Christmas Eve mass more clearly because it was more prominent in their childhood than it was in mine. Their childhood Christmas memories are often of being bundled up in an actual horse drawn sleigh to go to evening mass. They also recall large family gatherings with singing and dancing and playing of musical instruments, be it a fiddle, accordion, guitar and harmonica. When I was in my early twenties I recall my immediate friends and I going about visiting each others' families on Christmas Eve, and I made sure to be home by about ten o'clock or so. I kind of miss that, but all those friends are off somewhere else with their own lives and contact is now sporadic in the form of an occasional email from some of them. One of them I still see with some regularity around Christmas because he eventually became my brother-in-law.
When I was small I do remember sitting up late just to gaze at our lit up Christmas Tree and wonder at the presents beneath it. We would listen to Christmas music on the radio or listen to records. When listening to the radio we'd pay close attention to NORAD reports of tracking an object originating from the North Pole.
And we watched the clock ticking off the minutes.
While I do recall some of the gifts I received in those long ago days what I really remember are the sights and sounds and smells and the feelings
of magic and anticipation. As an adult during the years when I couldn't be home for Christmas the thought uppermost in my mind, the one thing I wanted most, was simply to be home with family.