CJ Kaplan is surprised by some visitors of Christmas present.
There is a Halloween tradition in our neighborhood that begins in mid-October when the first small bags of candy begin to appear on doorsteps up and down the street. Usually, our doorbell will ring right around dinnertime and I’ll open the door to catch a glimpse of the retreating backs of neighborhood pre-teens as they sprint away to avoid being caught. At my feet will be a paper bag filled with miniature candy bars, M&Ms, gummy bears and other treats of the season. There will also be a note inside informing me that I’ve been “Boo-d” and that it is now my sacred duty to “Boo” three other houses on the block.
I love getting “Boo-d” because I know exactly what to do: Feign anger, shake fist like Old Man Smithers in a Scooby Doo cartoon, yell some vague threat (“I’ll get you, whoever did this!” always works), listen for giggles, go inside and prepare my own “Boo” bags.
Lather, rinse and repeat.
“Boo-ing” is comfortable. “Boo-ing” is familiar. “Boo-ing” is an institution. I am prepared for any “Boo” bag that comes my way. I wish I could’ve said the same for my readiness when my doorbell rang on a frigid and icy night last weekend.
Let me preface the following story by saying that I identify culturally and ideologically as Jewish. That said, I like Christmas. I like the lights and the music and the Rankin/Bass specials. I like the parties and the presents and the good cheer. I even look reasonably good in red and green. Despite all this, I’ve always viewed Christmas as a bright, shiny object on display in a store window—fun to look at as you pass, but ultimately just a pleasant distraction on the way to somewhere else.
When I was sitting on my couch last Friday night, Christmas was the furthest thing from my mind. My wife, daughter and I were watching TV in the family room and the boys were upstairs enjoying a movie. We were savoring those blissful few hours each week when no homework needed to be done, nobody had a basketball game or a rehearsal to go to and there were no conference calls or meetings to be attended. So when the chimes rang at the front door, the sound seemed almost to come from outer space.
“Will you get it?” my wife asked, looking over at me. “I’m already in my pajamas.”
Grumbling, I got up and shuffled toward the door. As I reached for the knob, the singing began. I hesitated briefly and then pulled the door open.
There, on my front steps, were eight tiny reindeer. (Sorry, wrong story.) There, on my front steps, were a small group of men and women aged 18 to 30-ish singing what sounded like a Christmas song. Only it wasn’t one I had ever heard before. It was bright, lofty and distinctly hymnal. The group was pleasant and eager and their harmonies were excellent. So, they were probably more than a little surprised by what I did next. Pivoting on my heel, I turned and bolted into the kitchen as if it had been a grizzly bear at the front door instead of a group of rosy-cheeked singers.
You see, in my 44 years on this planet, I had been “Boo-d” dozens of times. But, I had never been “Caroled.” And I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what I was supposed to do.
There’s a popular conceit in the advertising industry, where I have toiled for the last 25 years, called “the fish out of water.” You take a person, usually a dad or a boyfriend, and put him in a place where he doesn’t know the laws of the land. Then, comedy ensues.
A man holding his wife’s purse as he waits in a mall. A man in a feather boa and floppy hat at his daughter’s tea party. A man in any situation that doesn’t involve sports, beer or little blue pills. (Watch TV for five minutes tonight. You’ll see one.)
Only now, I was the fish out of water.
“Quick!” I yelled to my wife and daughter as I burst into the kitchen. “Find some cookies! There’s carolers at the door and I think we’re supposed to give them cookies!”
“What are you talking about?” asked my wife.
Ignoring her, I turned to my daughter. “Samantha, where are those cookies you made last week?”
“We finished those days ago, Dad,” Samantha replied, rolling her eyes. “Duh.” (Yes, she is 13 as a matter of fact. Thank you for asking.)
“Dammit!” I muttered. Then, spying our one-cup Keurig coffee maker, I had a new idea. “I’ll make them some hot chocolate then!”
“It’ll take forever to make all those cups of hot chocolate,” my wife pointed out.
“Okay, okay,” I agreed, my panic intensifying. “Do we have any singles?”
“They’re not strippers, CJ,” my wife said, archly.
“Oh, uh, right. So, what are we supposed to do?
“I think you’re just supposed to listen to them.”
It was worth a try. So, I went back to the front door and smiled sheepishly at them as they finished their song.
Opening the door and feeling the sharp bite of the frosty wind, I immediately regretted not trying the hot chocolate solution.
“That was really nice,” I enthused. “Sorry I don’t have anything to give you. I would’ve made something warm if I’d known you were coming.”
“That’s okay,” said the woman closest to the door as she handed me a card with a candy cane glued to it. “We’re good.”
It was then that I noticed our carolers had been singing in front of a giant, rubberized dreidel that my son had stuck to our front door.
“Are you new to the neighborhood?” one of the men asked.
“No, we’ve lived here for 15 years,” I replied.
“It’s just that we’ve never sung at this house before,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, glancing at the dreidel. “I guess we’re not on the regular route.”
Then, I wished them a Merry Christmas, told them to stay warm and went back inside.
My oldest son reached me first. “Can I have the candy cane?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said, unsticking it from the card. “Share it with your brother.”
As he bounded up the stairs, I examined the card more closely. On the front was a re-creation of the nativity scene complete with Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wise men. On the back was an offer. I recognized it as an offer because of my aforementioned advertising experience. It read:
If you would like a FREE copy of Christmas songs sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, please call the toll-free number below.
“Holy shit!” I thought, without the slightest pun intended. Those weren’t just any group of ragtag seasonal singers who had taken my caroling virginity. Those were pros.
Now, I feel like I’m ready for any caroling situation. Come by and sing any time you like. I’ll even come out and join in if I know the words.
You might want to bring your own hot chocolate, though.