Last Sunday we had what has become an annual event on our street – a spot of carol singing followed by more than a spot of mulled wine. (Okay, I made 12 litres. Oops.)
A neighbour suggested it three years ago. I was enchanted by the idea of what she called ‘bellowing in the street’, and realised that I have only once seen a group of carol singers out on the streets in the local suburbia (and that was up in the next postcode where they are all quite posh white and English). Three years later, I can’t seem to stop organising it.
This year I left the decision until as late as possible in the hope it would sort of turn out not to happen, but it sort of did anyway, and this time our church threw their weight (and their singing voices) behind it, and it all went ahead yet again. I’m glad it did.
Normally the stressful part of organising the carol singing is tidying our house the day before, and making it look Christmassy right at the start of December when we wouldn’t normally bother. That went fairly smoothly this year and I felt downright smug about hanging the first front-door wreath on the street – though I am slightly ashamed to say that the Christmas tree came from Asda, thrown into my trolley with some food shopping (normally we buy the tree properly, which is to say from a pub car park staffed by dodgy-looking men in Santa hats).
What made the day a little more involved was also running the monthly play street that afternoon, on a month that a) the date clashed with the local school Christmas Fair, so many of our usual volunteer stewards were unavailable, and b) I was suddenly in charge of the stewards’ rota, as the loyal neighbour who had organised it for the last six months suggested having a break for some reason. The truth is that while I’ve accepted a lot of credit for our play street, I haven’t really done much work to make it happen, and it turned out to be quite a responsibility. I ended up recruiting three brand new stewards who don’t even live on the street and shortening the closure by an hour, and about 75 metres, and it was still the most stressful play street we’ve held so far. Loads of non-resident drivers turned up at once wanting to drive through the street, many were stroppy when told no, and many got through anyway because of the ensuing chaos and the inexperience of some of the stewards. One indignant van driver even tried to overtake me, more than once, when I was leading him on foot through the road.
A lot of this happened right at the start of the closure and while we stewards were hard at work guiding cars and being shouted at, it suddenly occurred to me – 20 minutes in – that there was not a single child on the street. I was so focused on getting the barriers set up and stewards in place that I had left both of my children and their friend indoors, playing on the Wii. I left my post and stormed in, yelling at them to get outside and have fun on the road or else. This coincided with two other families arriving and – lo and behold – we suddenly had a proper play street. We had thought children might steer clear of outdoor play in December, but given the proper encouragement (yelling) once they were out there they didn’t want to come in. Even though they had to get off the road every other minute at times because of the wretched through traffic, the Redster and her friend played out solidly for the remaining 100 minutes of the closure (mostly a modified version of bench ball) and didn’t stop running the whole time. (Although at the end of the play street they decamped to a neighbour’s house for some Minecraft, without telling me, and to be honest I didn’t notice until they came home.)
In a way the carols felt like a continuation of the play street. There we were, a noisy crowd of neighbours and church members, using our street as a social space and having quite a lot of fun in the process. The adults love belting out their favourite carols and the kids love being able to ring every single doorbell on the street without getting told off, and after dark to boot. Then there were moments of pure Christmas magic – a mother holding her baby, standing in a lighted upstairs window, smiling down at us while we sang Silent Night – the sheer fact of celebrating the birth of Jesus in song in public with people I have great affection for – and then a little Christmas miracle. We got to the door of our main street play opponent, who has refused to speak to me for about 18 months now. She flung open the door, all smiles, talked to all the children, gave them money and asked if we would sing again on our way back down the street. When I saw her on the pavement the next day I apologised that we hadn’t managed to come back, and she said it wasn’t a problem and the singing was lovely and it was as if she’d never hated my guts in the first place.
I love Christmas.