1. I absolutely love to sing
2. I absolutely love Christmas carols
3. I am an absolutely awful singer
Here's a story about how those three things earned over $100 for the Empty Stocking Fund:
One night, just over a year ago, I was walking home from shopping downtown with my lovely aunt Janet. On the corner of Burrard and Robson, we passed a family of singers. Their voices, warbling out familiar Christmas tunes, were a mishmash of old and young, in tune and out. But the effect was unified and powerful. They had little baskets made up with signs explaining what they were doing: singing Christmas carols to raise money for a summer camp. They weren't a choir group or a company, they were just a family that wanted to do something good that Christmas. We stayed and listened for a few minutes, and through the blur of tears in my eyes, Janet passed me a handful of change to drop in the basket. I will take this moment to add that I cry easily when I see good deeds or really happy people - especially at Christmas time. I walked away that night thinking, by gosh Kate, you've got to do this!
I wrote down Christmas carolling as my December goal, and thought it would be easy. It wasn't. There were a few times that I thought about throwing in the towel. For starters, none of my friends wanted to join in. Some were nervous to sing in public. Some thought it sounded downright too silly. Some had previous engagements that night. Others still, reluctant to give up a Saturday night. But whatever the reason, some of those friends and family members donated a few dollars to me before the carolling started. I didn't know this at the time, but I would be thankful for those early donations when the time came to start singing. In spite of all of the many reasons floating around, I managed to scavenge up a few lovely souls to join me in verse on the street corner. Phil, Julia, Steph - I love you and won't make you do it this year. Unless of course you really want to!
So, having secured my choir, I went about making preparations:
1. donation boxes
2. a song list for each singer
3. the songs in order on my phone
4. a portable speaker to play the songs in the background
5. fake candles to put in each donation box and around us - a little mood lighting if you will
6. signs, explaining just what we were doing
7. Santa hats
8. alcohol (very important, I've discovered over the years, for singing loudly in public)
Having done that, the evening was upon us. Here's how it went:
The evening started with a Christmas party hosted by my boyfriend's family. For the moment, my nervous butterflies about singing in public were muffled by my nervous butterflies about making small talk all night. Word got out about where we were heading after the party, and a few of Phil's family members tossed us some money, preemptively thanking us for our good deed. After a few hours of snacking and chatting, and ever so discretely guzzling white wine, we slipped out and on to the sky train.
The sky train was packed and we were late as it was, so we were flustered and argumentative and frantic - just what you want out of a couple of Christmas carollers. But, as soon as we got off the sky train and started walking towards Julia's house, the bad feelings were shed as quickly as the lid to our mickey of Baileys. We sang a couple of practice carols as we walked through her East Vancouver neighbourhood, procuring no more than a raised eyebrow along the way. When we got upstairs, Julia and Steph were waiting patiently, wine in hand, for our practice session. I handed out the song sheets and we all sang nervously along with the tinny computer speakers.
Finally, we hyped ourselves up enough to head downtown. Immediately upon arrival, I stopped at Starbucks, ordered us a couple of large coffees to share, and filled the cups to the brim with Baileys. Caffeine, booze, and sugar - a sure way to mix up your brain and body enough to think that singing in public is a good idea. Not knowing where to set up shop, we wandered around the art gallery a few times - as futile, yet important, a task as a dog circling their bed before sleep. We settled on the corner of Howe and Georgia. Here, we set up our speakers and baskets, put on our Santa hats, lit our fake candles, and pulled out our song sheets. I can't remember what song we sang here, but after one song in, the only money in our basket was the money donated by our friends and family too nervous to actually join us out there. This money made us feel a little better about ourselves. At least, if we were so horrible that we got booed off the streets, we would have something to show for our efforts.
After another hopeless song, we decided to switch corners. We gathered up our stuff and shuffled over to the corner of Robson and Howe - right in front of where the old Chapters was. As luck would have it, we found ourselves along the parade route of Canucks fans walking home from a recent loss at Rogers Arena. Despite the outcome of the game, they were feeling charitable. Our slightly out of tune renditions of Christmas favourites were finally earning us some coin. We were having fun, and profusely thanking the passers by as they dropped quarters and dimes into our baskets.
We would have been happy with these meagre earnings, had a group of students visiting Canada from the Ukraine not stopped to listen. We sang sheepishly as they watched us for a few songs. Then one of them stepped forward and asked if they could join us. Yes, you heard right, they wanted to sign with us! We leapt with glee and handed over our song sheets. They sang our Canadian Christmas songs with us politely for a while, and then asked if they could sing one of their traditional songs. It turns out, they were a part of a choir in the Ukraine. The songs they sang next made our renditions of Frosty and Rudolf seem as lame as that purple stuff in the Sunny D commercials. I don't know what they were saying or what their songs were about, but the four of us watched in tear-filled awe as they sang. Suddenly, those quarters and dimes became toonies and five dollar bills. It was beautiful. A true Christmas moment.
When they were finished, we took a few photos, hugged goodbye, and went our separate ways. I walked down to the Empty Stocking Fund office the next day, and felt darn good as I handed over the bag of money.
It was an embarrassing, rewarding, and meaningful experience. I hope I get the chance to do it again one day.
If anything, Buddy the Elf would be proud, for we definitely tried our best to "spread Christmas cheer for all to hear."
And if you were wondering, I cry on and off throughout that whole movie (Elf), but really loose it at the end when they all start singing in Central Park.
Thanks for reading : )