Old Town: A rebirth of the caroling tradition in Laurel
By Mary Sullivan
Baltimore Sun Media|
Jan 01, 2020 | 5:00 AM
Do you hear what I hear?
If you were in Old Town one evening near Christmas, you might have heard an attempt by two friends to have heaven and nature sing in celebration of the holiday.
Christmas caroling, a tradition that has fallen by the wayside in many communities, has experienced a revival here thanks to Jessica Norton and Meta Wallace. The women, who became friends 30 years ago while growing up together outside of Buffalo, New York, now live just blocks apart from each other in Old Town. This year, they hosted their 10th annual caroling party on Dec. 27, and more than 100 friends and family members went door to door in the neighborhood to spread Christmas cheer for all to hear.
“Wouldn’t it be fun to just carol?” Norton said she recalls of the genesis of the party in 2010. “We thought ‘Let’s invite our family, then let’s invite our friends,’ and it just grew and grew until now it’s a flash mob at every house we go to.”
Both women grew up with a love of Christmas carols. Wallace said the tradition of Lessons and Carols was a fixture in the Christian community she was raised in, as was a caroling event hosted by her high school Bible club.
“That experience of going door to door and not knowing who was going to open up the door was so fun,” Wallace said.
Norton likewise recalls caroling with her youth group in nursing homes and the joy that songs would bring to people’s faces.
“Christmas cheer, to me, has a lot to do with Christmas carols,” she said.
The party proceeds thus: Carolers gather at Norton’s home on Montgomery Street, where they fortify themselves with hot beverages like cocoa or cider. Then the group spends an hour knocking on doors around the neighborhood and singing a Christmas carol at each.
In the past couple of years, the gathering has grown so large that they have split into two groups and taken different routes in order to move quickly and hit as many houses as possible. Then, they end at Wallace’s home on Prince George Street to rock around the Christmas tree.
The party, which has no fixed date but always occurs within a few days before or after Christmas, takes place no matter the cold or rain. One year, it continued even while Norton’s husband, John, was sick. Another year, it continued despite the fact that Wallace was pregnant and several days past her due date. The friends’ broods have grown along with the party. In 2010, Wallace had one child. Now she has four children and Norton has three children, including one who just joined the family a few weeks ago.
“I always find it so motivating,” Wallace said. “Many, many times we knock at the door and the residents, especially little old ladies, are in tears. A lot of people have just been so touched and grateful for the experience.”
Norton said her favorite memory of the party was when one woman, awed by being serenaded by the carolers, asked if she could join them for the remainder of the festivities – and she did.
Occasionally, some residents on whose door the carolers have knocked have demonstrated that they prefer a silent night.
“There’s a couple of times we’ve had the door slammed in our faces,” Norton said, "but we just sing all the louder.”
Christmas celebrations centered on food, of course, as Pasta Plus raised $2,115 for charity by raffling off a giant panettone (traditional Italian Christmas bread) on Dec. 22, friend of this column Tony Glaros reports.
Proceeds from the raffle of the 44-pound traditional Italian bread with candied nuts and fruits were donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Dozens of patrons of the restaurant owned by brothers Max and Sabatino Mazziotti bought tickets for a chance to win.
The family of the winner, Bill Kotwas, donated the panettone to the Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad. The rescue squad, in turn, passed the panettone on to St. Mary of the Mills Church, which hosted the Winter Haven shelter for the homeless during Christmas week. Shelter guests feasted on the dessert after their Christmas meal. It is a sweet ending to a sweet story.