NEW YORK — The Washington Post published a very un-merry story this week about a group of D.C.-area Christmas carolers whose efforts to spread seasonal cheer were recently thwarted. According to the Post, the Thomas Circle Singers were holding a charity benefit concert when some Grinch sneaked into the church’s basement, went through the choristers’ coats and purses, and made off with 15 debit and credit cards. “While we were trying to help people in need we were being robbed,” one singer told the Post. “It was terribly disappointing. … We didn’t even think someone would want to do that kind of harm.”
As a man who has caroled in large groups before and hopes to do so again, this story struck fear into my bass-baritone heart. Whether you’re singing in the so-called sanctuary of some local church or harmonizing on the mean streets of your city or town, you should never forget that street crime doesn’t take a holiday. How can Christmas carolers protect themselves? Here are six suggestions.
1. Don’t be overcome by the music.
It is easy for holiday carolers to become lost in the music they are singing, and imagine the entire world as some joyful and munificent winter wonderland. This is called “letting your guard down,” and you shouldn’t do it. Never forget that Christmas carols are filled with lies, and that you should always remain alert and suspicious even as you are singing songs of love and good cheer.
2. Be aware of your surroundings.
If caroling on public streets, keep track of where you’re headed, so that you’ll know if you have inadvertently strayed into a rough neighborhood. Carol during the daylight hours; if you must sing at night, stick to well-lit places. You should also constantly pinch yourself while singing, to remind yourself that the real world can be a cold and painful place.
3. Keep your valuables close.
The Thomas Circle Singers made a critical mistake by leaving their wallets in an unsecured basement room during their concert. Never do this! Whether you’re singing in a church or in someone else’s home, never presume that your host has taken appropriate safety precautions. You are responsible for your own security. So keep your wallet in your pocket, and if you don’t have a pocket, perhaps consider using a money belt, or one of those around-the-neck thingies that old people use to store their passports when visiting Europe.
4. Take requests.
“Give the people what they want” is a valuable life strategy in general, but it’s especially applicable to holiday caroling outings. If an insistent audience member keeps yelling for “Silent Night,” don’t enrage him by sticking to your set list. Fulfill his request. Make him happy. A satisfied audience is an audience that is much less likely to rob you.
5. Lay off the wassail.
For many people, a caroling party is less about the music than the wassail, or the eggnog, or the spiked cider, or whatever warm and liquored-up beverage you use as a vocal lubricant. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some overproof holiday cheer, but don’t overdo it. Not only will excessive wassail consumption cause you to sing off-key, it will also make you less alert and more susceptible to malefactors. Wait until the caroling is concluded before hitting the punch bowl.
6. Do not sing “The Little Drummer Boy.”
This is the worst holiday song in history, guaranteed to enrage all those who hear it. If a group of sloppy mouthbreathers stood outside my window and unleashed a volley of unbidden pa-rum-pum-pum-pumming, I would probably respond with violence, and I can’t imagine I’m alone on this. So, carolers, avoid antagonizing your audiences with the sappiest of all songs.
Justin Peters writes Slate’s crime blog. @slatecrime.