’Twas the Night

’Twas the Night

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

’Twas the Night

When I was a child, our family traditionally caroled on Christmas Eve. It was a joint venture, with the neighborhood churches all participating. Not only did we brave the cold winds to sing door-to-door, but our caroling benefited the Fannie Battle Day Home, a local organization for unwed mothers.

The procedure was routine. We met at the local Methodist church, divided into teams and conducted a quick rehearsal. A child was commissioned as spokesperson for the evening and given a modest, wooden box with a slit in the top to collect donations.

Assuming a seven-year-old could easily pull the heartstrings of any Scrooge that lived in the district, someone handed me the collection box that year. My assignment was elementary: Wait patiently until someone opened the door, and then cheerfully announce, “Merry Christmas! We’re collecting money for the Fannie Battle Day Home. Would you like to make a donation?”

I memorized my lines before leaving the church and walked proudly ahead of the others, protecting the box with my tiny, gloved hands.

A dusty snow fell around us, and halos around the streetlamps provided our only light—except for the flashlights used to read music. Some houses felt inviting, others intimidating, but—sensing the choir was never far behind—I boldly approached each home and knocked loudly.

A towering old man, dressed in his pajamas, came to a window and peered through the curtains before opening his door. My knees trembled, but I waited until he acknowledged me and courageously blurted out my rehearsed appeal.

“Merry Christmas! We’re from the Dannie Hattle Fay Bome. Would you like to make a monation?”

The man chuckled and motioned his wife to bring his wallet. Together they dropped in a few dollars. Ah, success! On to the next house.

“Merry Christmas! We’re from the Hannie Dattle Bay Fome. Would you care to make a dolation?”

And at another door, “Merry Christmas! We’re from the Bannie Fattle Hay Dome. Would you need to make some domations?”

No doubt about it, I was cute. And in spite of the fact that I couldn’t get the words right, people were generous and good-hearted. But I was young and cold and growing weary.

Too tired to carry on, I surrendered my position at the front line of duty to a more experienced caroler. Huddling close to the others, I stomped my feet and blew my breath into my palms like I watched others do. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the end of Cephas Avenue, completing the circle back to the Methodist Church.

Hot chocolate, doughnuts and my mother waited for us in the warm hall. Once my toes were thawed and my tummy full, Mama took me home and nestled me all snug in my wee little bed.

But there were no sugarplums dancing in my head that night. No visions of candy canes or lollipops. Instead, I fell asleep remembering the faces of those who gladly put money into my little wooden box . . . remembering the house where we sang around the bedside of a wrinkled, old lady in a hospital gown . . . remembering how she cried when we left . . . remembering the carolers softly singing “Away in a Manger” under a light snow.

The night’s music and magic stayed with me. And I remember it still—each Christmas Eve—when I’m nestled all snug in my wee little bed.

Charlotte A. Lanham

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