80. Community Spirit

80. Community Spirit

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Community Spirit

This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.

~Taylor Caldwell

Our family of four missed the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins back home in Arizona when we relocated to Seattle, Washington. We missed the balmy weather of Phoenix. We missed strings of lights embraced in the arms of tall cacti in our neighborhood. I hoped the Northwestern holiday cheer would abate the chill in the weather and in our hearts.

Our son Nicholas listened to the local radio broadcasts and alerted our family when he heard about wonderful activities or yummy new restaurants. One day he said, “Mom! I just heard about The Great Figgy Pudding Christmas Caroling Contest on the radio. It’s this Friday evening at Westlake Center. There is even a carousel that we can ride!”

Nick pleaded his case for a holiday outing in the crisp temperatures forecast for that weekend. “It will be fun to hear everyone sing Christmas carols. Radio station WARM, 106.9 FM is the sponsor.” Nick, a gifted musician, is a huge fan of holiday music and this local Seattle station starts its holiday music broadcast on the day after Thanksgiving.

“Okay Nick, we’ll check out the contest. That sounds like a great way to start our holiday.” I searched our closets for long underwear, warm gloves and mufflers.

Nick, our younger son Dan and I met my husband Ray at the plaza. Nick is blind, so he couldn’t see the dazzling lights, but his face lit up as the cacophony of carols greeted our ears. Even bundled in layers of warm winter wear, I felt goose bumps. My sense of awe, not the cold, caused me to shiver. “Wow guys, I am so glad we came!”

Contestants ranged from Starbucks baristas who belted out ballads, to attorneys and secretaries who sang their souls out. Anyone who carried a tune, read music and organized a group could participate.

We giggled at a group from a gourmet shop that sold garlic-themed products. The Garlic Gal and her Clovettes donned gunnysacks of garlic-shaped apparel and sang “Jingle Bells” in 1950’s style.

Our favorite was the Beaconettes, a group of ladies who hailed from the Beacon Hill neighborhood. Tall beehive hairdos adorned with blinking lights accentuated their outrageous eyewear and brightly colored feather boas. They sang unique lyrics set to traditional holiday tunes. They lampooned major Seattle events set to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Phrases like “a partridge in a pear tree” morphed into “one perfect game,” a nod to Seattle’s recent Super Bowl victory

We wandered the area and listened to groups of singers. Our votes for the Beaconettes and the Garlic Gals were dropped, along with our donations, into the ballot box. We joined the crowds and sang along on a familiar chorus.

Warm libations from Starbucks and other vendors kept our vocal cords in tune. Grown-ups preferred hot coffee or lattes, but the kids’ favorite was hot cocoa crowned with whipped cream.

Temptations tickled our noses. The savory aroma of chestnuts roasted on portable grills mingled with the festive fragrances of fresh pines. Piping hot nuts filled paper envelopes, perfect for hand warmers. Fresh doughnuts, hot from the kettle, bags of caramel popcorn, and waxed paper wrapped Turkish delights kept our tummies warm.

Nick maneuvered us toward the calliope music coming from the Holiday Carousel. As we stood in line, we sang an impromptu Christmas carol with our fellow passengers. Mounted side by side on festive steeds, we squealed like children. I waved to my husband and Daniel, who stood at the rail taking pictures to send to Grandma back in Phoenix.

When the ballots were collected and counted, the most popular contestants were summoned to the main stage next to the gigantic Christmas tree. The finalists each performed an encore song. Thunderous applause, intended to sway the judges’ decisions, almost drowned out the final notes of the ensembles on stage. The Beaconettes, our favorites, won second place. The Garlic Gals were not called on stage. “I guess the garlic repelled vampires and the voters too,” I said.

After trophies were presented, officials on stage invited the audience to join in to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Tears welled in my eyes as we sang the notes of the familiar tune and declared our collective desire for “figgy pudding.” My voice quavered on the chorus. I fished a tissue from my jacket pocket and I noticed I was not the only person in the crowd who dabbed at their eyes. No longer strangers, we were one big family and felt genuine warmth as we wished each other happiness in the coming holiday season.

In later years Nick joined carolers sponsored by a local law firm. The group, comprised of college students, sang avant-garde versions of Christmas carols. Nick, a quick study, was able to join in a hilarious song about a young couple’s breakup and the events that ensued on the “Twelve Days after Christmas.”

Our family was hooked. No other activities get planned on the first Friday of December.

Nick’s little brother Dan is married now. His wife and her family join our group at Westlake Center each year. One day I hope to take some grandchildren of my own for a ride on the Christmas carousel ride!

Our holiday season begins each year, as we join over ten thousand Seattleites, who brave the cold, rain and occasional snow to stand shoulder to shoulder, in Westlake Center and sing, “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”

~Kathy G. Passage

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