A carol singer's guide to the joys of singing at Christmas

In response to our recent survey and campaign on carol singing, an enthusiastic carol singer tells us what has kept her carolling throughout her adult life.

A carol singer's guide to the joys of singing at Christmas

Recently, after conducting a survey on community activities, we published an article about how most people would like to see more carol singing in their area than they currently do. This prompted Kathleen Lavery, long-time carolling fan, to tell us why she has been singing carols for the past 21 years and why it's worth your time over the festive season. As you'll find out, small groups and easy-to-access locations is enough to get started...

Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I work in a school in Belfast in Northern Ireland called the Holy Child Primary School. I’m a Year 5 teacher but I also run the school choir. There are 50 children in the choir in a school of 500.

Can you remember the first time you went carol singing?

The first-time I went carol singing was while at the University of Belfast 30 years ago. I remember singing a lot of traditional carols, but particularly Good King Wenceslas – which has lots of words! I walked around the streets of Belfast with a group of friends from the university choir, singing and collecting money for charity. It was a lot of fun and inspired me to carry on with singing at Christmas!

What made you want to keep doing it for the past 21 years?

I want to keep singing because it has boosted my confidence, and allowed me to keep a close connection with my friends in the adult choir I sing with. Originally, we would have gone singing in the local hospital because one of our members is a local doctor, so we’d go and sing around the wards. Back then not very many people were singing in hospitals, but now there’s lots of music in the hospital so we’ve taken what we love doing and have moved to the streets of Belfast! I really enjoy singing in public because people stop and listen, and enjoy the music that we make together. 

What has carol singing helped you and your friends achieve?

Singing together has definitely boosted our confidence as a choir. We recently sang in Victoria Square in Belfast. It makes you excited when people stop and listen to you singing. The children in my school choir love singing together too. You see friendships forming and confidence building and it makes everyone feel excited for Christmas!

Where have you been carol singing this year?

I’ve been lucky enough to do lots of carolling this month. In my adult choir we sang at a local school’s Christmas Fete as people were coming into the school. We collected money for Macmillan Cancer Support. People stopped and listened to us and sang along! We were also asked for requests which was exciting. We made up some simple harmonies for some Christmas songs that we were asked to sing and just about remembered the words.

Another highlight this month was singing with the school choir in some Old People’s Homes in Belfast, which were all within walking distance from the school. The pupils enjoyed singing for them because they knew it was putting everyone into the Christmas mood. They particularly enjoyed it when the residents joined in and sang along with them. A good time was had by all!

Do you see a lot of carol singing happening in your area? Why do you think that is?

There is a lot of carol singing in Belfast. Usually the Saturday before Christmas, one of the local churches has carol singing on the street corner and there’s a big Christmas tree that goes up in the town centre where lots of different groups of varying ages come together and sing carols. I think this happens because it’s a good way to celebrate making music and Christmas as a community. 

Do you have any advice you can give to anyone who wants to go carol singing for the first time?

If you’re going to be singing outside I would recommend dressing warmly! In terms of choosing music I normally choose classic Christmas carols and songs, like ‘O come all ye faithful’ and ‘Jingle bells’. But I would also say that it’s nice to add in a few slightly less usual arrangements of songs, to get people listening. When it comes to singing with children I would always try and do a song that you could add actions too, because that will mean that the children will not only enjoy singing but also moving along to the music.

What are your favourite carols to sing?

My favourite carol to sing with my adult choir is either ‘There is no rose’ or ‘Carol of the bells’ which was used in the Waitrose Christmas advert a few years ago. They both make me feel ready for Christmas.

What sort of responses do you normally get from the people who hear your carol singing?

We normally get a very positive and happy response. Lots of people are surprised that when my adult choir sings together there are only 10 of us! With the children’s choir, people like to see the children singing and doing something that they enjoy. So many of our students are keen to sing at Christmastime that we’ve started to put a rota together to make sure as many children get a chance to sing as possible!


Are you enjoying carol singing or festive singing activities this year? Share your stories with us in the comments below! Or you can email us (like Kathleen did) at magazine@singup.org.

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