9 Inexpensive Christmas Stocking Stuffers for the Historical Costumer

The holidays are here and it can be a bit challenging to find gifts to give a hobbyist if you don’t share that hobby.

For a costumer, a good pair of sewing shears is always a welcome gift or a fresh set of sharp pins or a giftcard to the local hobby shop, but here are a few smaller, less obvious gifts that make great stocking stuffers for the historical costumer in your life.

These are general inexpensive common items that can be found in big box stores or online– stuff that might not pop immediately into your mind as a “costuming” gift, but that are infinitely handy for historical costuming!

1. Tinted Lip Balm (Average Price: $1-10)

Blistex’s Lip Vibrance is my absolute favorite (Walmart, $2.50). It has the perfect rosy pink color and is SPF 15. Plus, it has a tiny mirror on the tube! I also have Vaseline’s Rosy Lips (Dollar Tree, $1). It is more slick and glossy with barely any color, but it does a good job of keeping lips soft.

Lip balm is incredibly handy to have at outdoor events, especially in dry climates (or cold ones, as I discovered during a particularly chilly DFWCG Georgian Picnic). In addition, a little sheer tint gives your lips a healthy rosy glow without looking too made-up. A lip balm with a bit of color to it is an indispensable item I take to every costuming event!

There are a variety of historically accurate options available as well, like LBCC Historical’s 1772 tinted rose lip balm (Etsy, $10). Or, if you are feeling crafty, make your own from a historical recipe, like this one! Bonus points for making a homemade gift as well.

2. Black Safety Pins – (Average price: $2-4)

I buy my black safety pins at Walmart for about $2, but you can find them in almost any big craft store or online. I love them because they are much less visible on darker and matte fabrics! In the above picture, you can see the difference between the black safety pin and the regular silver safety pin on the very matte black linen I used for my 1878 mourning dress.

The vintage term for black lacquered metal pins is “Japanned.” In the Victorian era, they were used for mourning clothes, but black pins are incredibly handy for wearing with any dark costume were the glint of a silver pin would be glaringly obvious. Plus, you can never had too many safety pins!

3. Knee Socks and Stockings ($1-35)

It’s an age-old trope: socks for Christmas? Bleck! But to a historical costumer, stockings are the perfect stocking stuffer! You can’t go wrong with a fine pair of creamy white or black above the knee stockings, but you can go for funkier designs, too, depending on your gift recipient’s personality. I have another post about historical stockings here.

I have a wide variety of stockings from basic knee socks (Walmart, $3) to baseball socks (Academy Sports, $8) to trouser stockings (Dollar Tree, $1) to fancy clocked stockings (Fashions Revisited, $15).

I will say that I prefer a finer, even knit stocking, not necessarily sheer, just a smaller thread/stick size, like a modern dress sock. Chunky, textured, or coarse knits can cause rub spots in shoes…a not-so-nice situation if you’re having to walk around uneven ground outside all day.

You can find a huge variety of fantastic knee and over-the-knee socks online at places like Sock Dreams or Ozone Socks! For luxurious historical repros, there’s the  American Duchess stocking line or Fashions Revisited.

4. Hair Donuts, Hairpins, and Hair Ties ($1-6)

Historical hair can be hard. A hair donut makes it easier! What on earth is a hair donut? A hair donut is just a puffy circle of fine mesh that helps make perfectly smooth buns easily. They are readily available from Dollar Tree, Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Sally’s Beauty Supply–or just about anywhere you can find hair accessories– and usually cost just a few dollars.. They come in a variety of sizes and colors like blonde, brunette, black, and red to help blend better into the hair. You can find hair donuts in singles or in kits.

A packs of hairpins/bobby pins and hair ties in the right color to blend into the hair are also wonderful. Hairpins and hair ties always seem to vanish after a while, so getting extras are usually a very welcome surprise. I like Goody’s Ouchless hair ties, myself (Target/Walmart, $5). They come in a variety of natural hair colors.

5. Shoe Laces ($1-12)

This may be a bit out of left field, but shoe laces are very handy to have around the sewing room. They can become a drawstring in a skirt or purse and lace up a corset. Shoelaces with metal ends are especially nice and more historically accurate (The technical term for the tips is “aglets” and they have been around for centuries). Look for solid-color flat ones in the kid’s section which work great for purses or extra-long (84″+) round ones by the men’s workboots that are ideal for corsets.

6. Cute Paper-Cutting Scissors ($3-10)

Every seamstress has a preferred type of sewing shear, so if you’re planning to get them a new pair, ask them what type they prefer. However, for just a quick gift, it’s equally handy to get a pair of scissors for cutting pattern tissue, too. Find a fun pair! An all-purpose pair of scissors with a cute handle makes it easy to tell the paper-cutting scissors from the fabric scissors. You can never have too many pairs of scissors of all types!

7. Faux Pearl Jewelry ($3+)

Pearls are classic and have been treasured since ancient times. The great thing about a strand of pearls or a pair of pearl drop earrings is that they are timeless: they can be worn with any era of costume from Roman to Renaissance to Victorian to Retro. If you’ve got the budget for real pearls, kudos to you! But quality faux pearls are affordable and widely available anywhere that sells jewelry like Target, Kohls, Claires, etc. One of my favorite costuming necklaces is a $10 strand of glass pearls from Walmart.

If you have a few extra dollars to invest in a gift, there are several historical costume jewelry sellers as well, like Dames a La Mode or K. Walters at the Sign of the Gray Horse.

8. Long Evening Gloves ($8-25)

In the past, folks generally wore gloves when they went outside no matter the season. Gloves have mostly fallen out of fashion in our modern world and finding vintage examples can be difficult. That’s why stretchy costume gloves are so great! Places like Party City and bridal shops generally have them year round in a variety of colors. Plain black, white, and ivory are the easiest to find and the most versatile, though if your giftee has a fave color, you can certainly find it online. They come in lots of colors!

9. Book Phone Case ($10+)

Lots of costumers like to use a cell phone cover designed to look like a little leather-bound book to hide this indispensable bit of modernity. I love my book phone case! Book phone cases are not one-size-fits-all, so if you plan to get one as a gift, make sure you know the model of your giftee’s phone. Unlike the other items on this list which you can find easily in stores, this one you’ll probably have to buy online. You can find genuine leather ones ($25-50) or  faux-leather ones ($10-25).

Of course, each costumer is different, so not all of these gifts are 100% perfect for each person, but they might give you some ideas.There are plenty of other little gifts you can use as stocking stuffers (measuring tapes, pins, etc.) for your favorite historical costumer. If in doubt, though, just ask them what they want! They’ll be able to tell you more specific items.

HAVE A SAFE AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

A Ticker Tape Timeline of Panic: An 1890s Costume for Candlelight at Dallas Heritage Village 2014

The Panicked Plaid Walking Dress, circa 1897

After Georgian Picnic, I got to start my new job! It’s a bit more complicated than anticipated, but otherwise it is working out well. The only tangle is that Saturday hours are required. Many Guild events are on Saturdays, so I was worried I would have to miss the December events, Lantern Light and Candlelight. Lantern Light was actually a last minute event. We were invited on the fly to attend for free if we all come dressed in 1890s garb. I love the 1890s! And free? Everybody loves free!

When the schedule rolled out at work the following week, however, I was scheduled to work that Saturday. It broke my heart, but Lantern Light was off the table. The Thursday before the event, the schedule suddenly changed and I got the day off, but by then other plans had been made, so I still missed it. I was, however, now free to attend Candlelight. I planned to wear my 1856 day dress since I thought it was “Christmas-y” enough to fit the mood. Plus, December events are frequently frigid, so yards of heavy quilting cotton would be a welcome haven from the chill.

But the seed of discontent had been sewn by my missed 1890s opportunity and the unruly Texas weather only helped that discontent grow…

Saturday, December 6th
(7 Days until Candlelight)

The forecast predicts that the weather, which has been unbelievably warm for December, will continue to prove the existence of global warming throughout the week. Highs are listed in the low 70s through the following Saturday. I wonder if six yards of quilting cotton is the wisest choice.  I have that summery cotton 1890s dress that’s much lighter. Maybe wear that? No. It’s too spring-like. I want to be festive! There’s a new Walmart down the road with an awesome fabric department…no! There’s no time! Plus, my 1850s dress is super cute.

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Maintain the course, Lizzie! You’re too deep in already, what with this new job. You don’t have time to make anything new. No more last minute sewing!

Becky is a busy bee at work and has no time to sew, so we troop over to the neighborhood Goodwill to put my Easy Edwardian thrifting tutorial into action. Hallelujah! The perfect lavender formal skirt appears! One flouncy silk shirt, pair of perfectly plum pumps, and a swanky sheer jacket later and we have the perfect basic Edwardian lady! We part discussing hats hats hats. I love hats…especially 1890s hats.

Sunday, December 7th
(6 Days until Candlelight)

O…M…G…This Walmart polysatin looks so fabulous! And look! A matching plaid! I need this plaid. It is sooooo 1890s!

The Delineator January, 1898

I’ll just stash them together since they’re practically made for each other. It’ll be a good project for later. Can I get some help in the fabric department please? Thank you. Is it okay if I start stacking bolts here? Fabulous!

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Ahem! What? Nope! Nothing to see here! Carry on!

Monday, December 8th
(5 Days until Candlelight)

Wow, is my head stuffy! I hope I’m not getting a cold…

Tuesday, December 9th
(4 Days until Candlelight)

Yup. Cold. Dammit.

Wednesday, December 10th
(3 Days until Candlelight)

Becky is going Edwardian. Chris is (was) going in his blue Edwardian coat. I wanna match eras! A stupid idea this close to the event, but–themes! Plus, I have this awesome, festive plaid that is just screaming holiday without being too kitschy. Yup! Totes making an 1890s dress! Simplicity 4156 has lots of pieces, but I’ve made it before and I’ve refined the pattern to the point where it fits pretty well. Sewing the skirt would take up a big chunk of time, though. Time for some thrifty cheating!

skirt

I have a red satin formal skirt I used for my Edwardian hack, and it matches pretty well. I’ll just use the bodice portion and forgo the skirt. But housework first. I’ll start tomorrow.

Thursday, December 11th
(2 Days until Candlelight)

2:34 pm: Wow, work was a bear! I’ll just lie down for a short nap to recover. Better take some medicine, too. I should probably lay out my pattern pieces fir–ZZZZZZZZ….

5:53 pm: Whoa, I did not mean to sleep that long. Time to meet Becky at Hobby Lobby for hat decorations. Feathers! Flowers! Fabrics! Trims take the most time to shop for, at least in my case, plus, you can never have too many ostrich plumes!

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Chopping up a cheap Christmas wreath yields the perfect touch of Christmas cheer for my hat, too.

Friday, December 12th
(1 Day until Candlelight)

10:00 am: Probably should not have slept this late…

1:30 pm: HOLY COW HOLY COW HOLY COW! I HAVE 24 HOURS TO GET THIS DONE.

<abject panic and flailing for about 2 hours>

Maybe I’ll just wear my 1856 dress after all. But that would be quitting. I ain’t no quitter!

3:40 pm: Hmmm…I don’t really want balloon sleeves this go-round. Mutton sleeves sound better. Internet tutorials to the rescue! There are lots of methods, but I need to stay simple. The easiest two are the vertical slash for a very full, tapered sleeve and the curved slash that concentrates that fullness at the top:

Leg of Mutton Sleeve Pattern Diagrams, circa 1940
The vertical slash method is on the bottom.

 

Leg of Mutton Sleeve Pattern Diagrams, circa 1940
The “Gill” method is on the left.

They produce very similarly shaped results, but I don’t like the amount of fullness the vertical slash method creates down the length of the arm when used for long sleeves (for short puffs it should work just fine). Both would be correct, but the more fitted forearm of the “gill” method is much more flattering. The sleeves take almost a full yard of fabric by themselves!

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I would have gone bigger, but there was no time to do another mock-up.

4:50 pm: All pattern pieces cut! I scrounge for lining and end up having to line the sleeves in cotton rather than net, so they won’t puff as much as I like. If you can, flatline mutton sleeves with net if your fabric is soft and drapes. Crisp fabrics usually don’t need it, depending on how you want the final result to look. Another option is to make 1980s-esque shoulder pads. I had time for neither, so my sleeves flop a bit. Oh well!

5:50 pm: Time to go to dinner with the family and go to Journey to Bethlehem at church.

9:40 pm: Chris drops me off at the house on his way to Magic the Gathering.

1:15 am: There’s so much to do! The lapels are giving me lots of trouble because I’ve worn out the needle and I have no more! Chris has the car way across town, so buying a fresh one is a no-go. I hand crank the needle through the thick lapel interfacing, which works great….until I realize I’ve just sewn one lapel backwards! Crap.

2:26 am: THE NEEDLE BREAKS.

2:27 am: Wailing and gnashing of teeth.

3:15 am: Chris picks me up after Magic the Gathering and we buy fresh needles from Wally World.

4:40 am: Bed.

Saturday, December 13th
(The Day of Candlelight)

9:00 am: Alarm goes off.

10:00 am: I decide I needed to make life even more complicated by adding a faux belt front to the bodice insert. I bought the buckle off eBay about a month ago for a few dollars. I didn’t really know why I bought it at the time, but it works perfectly. Must have been fate! Also the hand of fate: I have a red silk shirt from Goodwill to recycle into a belt that pretty closely matches the skirt color.

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11:30 am: Insert done. The collar came up an inch short, but there is no time! Hide it with a brooch…

12:05 pm: The peplum requires a ridiculously long piece of facing. I don’t have time to hand-tack it to the lining. Iron-on hem tape that sucker!

1:25 pm: Sleeves done.

1:30 pm: Wait, I was supposed to be curling my hair this whole time?! Noooooooooo! I forgot!

2:00 pm: Becky arrives and we get her all gussied up.

3:15 pm: Chris is hollering at me from downstairs that we need to go and I am still sewing feathers on my hat. Also, he has decided to go in his western vest rather than in his more formal vest and one button has fallen off. Sew it on while stuck in Dallas traffic.

4:55 pm: Arrive late, but look oh-so-fabulous! (Sorry for making you wait, Jen!)

1910s and 1890s

1910 on the left, 1897 on the right!

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Our cozy little group, complete with a pair of handsome gentlemen!
Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre (and the woman who so kindly took the photo for us!)

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Photo (filtered B&W) courtesy of Festive Attyre

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Photo (filtered B&W) courtesy of Festive Attyre

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Becky made her hat from a sun hat that she covered with velvet and trimmed with silk hydrangeas and sequined ribbon. Her first Edwardian hat-making project ever! The sequins caught the light so well.

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Edwardian hats are large horizontally while 1890s hats are large vertically, so I went for big, tall feathers and flora. Like many 1890s hats, I put a big V shaped bow at the back to create the “setting hen” look that was popular at the time.

Festive 1890s Hat Cost Breakdown

Wool hat base – $18.95, Go-a-Hat
Fabric for band and bow – Scraps, so free!
Various greenery from dismembered wreath – $4.95, Hobby Lobby
Red feathers – $1.99, Hobby Lobby
Cream plume – $3.99 Hobby Lobby

Total: $29.88

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

Panicked Plaid 1890s Dress Cost Breakdown

3 yards navy polysatin – $6, Walmart
1 yard plaid cotton – $1, Walmart
Red silk shirt for belt- $2.15, Goodwill
Gilded brass belt buckle – $4.49, eBay
Red formal skirt – $5.49, Goodwill
1/4 yard interfacing – A gift, so free!
White beaded purse – Technically it’s my sisters, so, um, free?

Total: $19.13

You might notice something missing from this list: fasteners! indeed, there isn’t a single fastener down the front of the bodice! It’s held together by the belt, brooch and two strategically placed straight pins, but thanks to the fit and front pleating, you can’t even tell. Not bad for being totally on the fly!

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Happy Holidays!

Christmas Caroling Through Time: From Fur Capes to Fistfights

Sing a Song of Christmas!

Rooted in ancient festivals and fun for all, the Christmas tradition of caroling provides an excellent excuse to dress up and sing in public! Caroling is a European tradition that became especially popular during the Middle Ages. Groups of singers would go from house to house, singing simple songs and entertaining each household with skits in return for sweetcakes, a warming drink, or charity money.  Now a days, caroling has gotten a rather campy reputation of being annoying, bitterly uncomfortable, and kitschy. In reality, some people may be annoyed and it can get rather cold, but if done properly, it’s fun for singers and listeners alike whether you gather around the coffee table, sing in a gazebo at the park, or have the guts to knock on people’s doors!

Many traditional caroler costumes are based on 1840s -1860s fashions with large skirts, puffy sleeves and a cape for warmth, but there are two other equally delightful periods perfect for caroling costumes: Medieval/Early Renaissance and the 1950s. Each costume era has a different feel and provides its own creative (and comfort) advantages!

~*~

The Classic Caroler: 1840s-1860s

Caroling became exceptionally popular during the 19th century when a wealth of today’s favorite classics were written. A traditional caroler’s outfit from the 1840s-1860s is ideal because the layers of skirts, high neck, and long, full sleeves are toasty warm. A simple hoop skirt alone under your gown might be a little too breezy, but a girl in the mid-1800s would have worn two, three or even four petticoats to plump up her gown, even if she was wearing hoops underneath which does wonders to block out the icy wind.

American Silk Dress, circa 1857-59

Any 19th century woman would have the added benefit of wearing a slip and corset to keep her warm and in form.

Together with period-appropriate undergarments like long johns or wool stockings, a sturdy pair of button-up boots keep the biting cold from nipping at your toes! (For more information about period appropriate footwear, click here.)

Accessories like fur-lined capes, tartan wraps, big bonnets, and soft handmuffs– all popular during the time– keep your fingers and nose safe from Jack Frost. Kids don’t have to stay out of the fun because it’s too cold. Up until about 1900, most children’s clothes were scaled-down versions of what their parents wore, so all the fuzzy warm layers you’re wearing can be made in miniature for a little one.

If you really want to get in the historical Christmas spirit, here’s a list of carols written during or before the 1860s:

Angels from the Realms of Glory (1816)
Angels We Have Heard on High (1862)
Come Buy my Nice Fresh Ivy or O’Carolan’s Lament (1849)
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (1749)
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (1833)
Good King Wenceslas (1853)
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing  (1855)
Jingle Bells (1857)
Joy to the World (1839)
O Christmas Tree (1824)
O Holy Night (1847)
Silent Night (1859)
Twas in the Moon Of Wintertime (1643)
Twelve Days of Christmas (1780)
We Three Kings (1863)
What Child is This (1865)
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (1700)

~*~

Wassailing: Medieval/ Early Renaissance

“Wassailing” is an old English tradition that grew out of pagan Anglo-Saxon traditions of singing for good fortune and harvests. It was adapted later to fit new Christian beliefs, and much later, it evolved into a Christmas tradition that stayed popular until it was overtaken by the calmer caroling of the 19th century. Wassailers are not your average carolers! They didn’t just sing, they danced, told stories, performed skits, and dressed up as greenmen and saints. Wassialers were sometimes more like a rowdy bunch of college kids than a calm quartet of Victorian dandies. If they did you the favor of singing to you, you darn well better bring them some figgy pudding because they aren’t going away until they get some! Since wassailing began as a serenade in the orchards to bring forth a good harvest, cider is the traditional drink shared during wassailing. Apple trees and their fruits were thought to scare away demons and bring health.

Any era from 1100-1600 will do for a Wassailer, but one of the most unusual (and therefore more exciting) choices is the era from 1200-1400. Medieval wassailers were peasants, so their clothing is simple to wear and easy to layer. Men wore long woolen tunics with wool hose or leggings, wrapping furs around their legs and arms for warmth. The ladies wore long kirtles or chemises and covered their heads with veils in a wide range of styles, natural colors, and trims.

To keep out the chill, if you are a man, you can never go wrong with a good cloak with a hood that either covers your shoulders or goes clear to your knees. If you are a woman, you can layer on a short-sleeved or sleeveless overdress and then a long cloak over the basic kirtle. For added warmth and spangle, add a wide woven girdle belt and maybe even turn your song book into a girdle book to hang from your waist! The more layers you wear, the merrier you will stay (though a little spiked cider helps, too!).

Some thick stockings are a must, as well as some good leather shoes or booties, similar to what we call “moccasins” today. Medieval shoes were usually flat or had a tiny wooden heel, so you don’t have to worry about wobbling through the snow in stilettos. Pointed toes suit a fashionable lady, while a rounded toe works well for a gent.

Most older carols that we know today began as chants used in monasteries and during Mass, often in Latin. Here are some of the oldest Christmas carols from before 1600 along with a few Wassailing-inspired songs:

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabelle or Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle (1553)
Coventry Carol or Lullay, Thou Tiny Little Child (1500s)
Deck the Halls (1500s)
Good Christian Men Rejoice or In dulce jubilo (1837/1328)
Greensleeves (Melody, 1500s)
Guadete (1582)
Here We Come A-Wassailing (1853)
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (1600, possibly earlier)
Lo, How a Rose E’er is Blooming or Es ist ein Ros Estsprungen (1500s)
O Come All Ye Faithful or Adeste Fideles (1200s)
O Come, O Come Emmanuel (1100s)
Of the Father’s Heart Begotten (1300s)
Sing We Now of Christmas or Noël Nouvelet (1400s)
The Cherry Tree Carol (1400s)
The First Noel (1600, possibly earlier)
The Holly and the Ivy (1600, possibly earlier)
This Endris Night (1400s)
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (1500s)

~*~

A Christmas Special: 1950s

The Golden Era of fashion and Christmas sentimentality, the 1950s is the perfect era for a more informal, fun caroling session with friends. Most of our favorite secular Christmas songs began to spring up during the first half of the 2oth century, thanks to a boom in the movie industry and the birth of holiday specials in theaters and on TV. Besides, who doesn’t love a classy swing skirt and kitschy Christmas jewelry? If you want to wear a garish reindeer brooch with a glowing red nose on your Christmas tree sweater, the 1950s caroler is perfect for you!

If it isn’t too chilly outside where you live, the 1950s caroler offers a great fashion alternative to heavy skirts or boring modern get-ups. There are a wide variety of 50s fashions to choose from since the era saw fashions from pants to full dresses and pencil skirts. For a lovely lady, a dress in a festive color or print with a fitted top and a full-flaring skirt to her shins with a pretty ruffled petticoat would have been especially festive! You can’t go wrong with a turtle neck and a flouncy skirt!

For a trip outside, you can luxuriate inside the cozy embrace of your fur-collared wool coat or your herringbone cape with handy pockets (perfect for storing bits of ribbon candy or tissue). Elegant leather gloves and a wide assortment of scarves and hats will keep your ears on your head and keep your nose from running away!

A sturdy pair of pumps with some warm tights will keep your gams thawed if there isn’t snow on the ground. If it’s wet and wintery, you can opt for some loafers or oxfords. If you want a little sass, wear galoshes with your nicest dress!

Don’t forget to throw on a little touch of funky vintage jewelry, a grand hat, or a boa of tinsel garland to liven up your outfit!

Some festive  Christmas carols from 1880-1965:

Away in a Manger (1885)
Carol of the Bells (1916/1936)
Do You Hear What I Hear (1962)
Frosty the Snowman (1950)
I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas (1940)
In the Bleak Midwinter (1906)
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1952)
Let it Snow (1945)
Little Drummer Boy (1957)
Mary’s Little Boy Child (1956)
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1958)
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1949)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934)
Silver Bells (1950)
Sweet Little Jesus Boy (1934)

~*~

Caroling isn’t just tromping through the snow in costumes to sing songs everyone is either sick of or has no clue what you’re singing about. It’s about carrying on a tradition of fellowship, feasting, and faith that has been going on for over 1000 years! By getting out there on a chilly December night and tossing aside your fear of singing in public for just one hour, you’ve joined the merry halls of all those revelers who’ve gone before. And you get to dress up while doing it. Who doesn’t love that?!