Starry nights, hot chocolate and caroling add up to a folksy Christmas tradition for many Augustans.
Worship team members of In Focus Church start their annual Christmas party by "freezing and singing beautiful Christmas songs" in the host's neighborhood, said the Rev. Brent Garrard, worship pastor.
It is a way to wish the neighbors a "Merry Christmas" and tell them Jesus loves them, he said. "It is a tremendous outreach. These are more than seasonal songs. They have an eternal meaning."
And, while it's great to go anywhere to sing, caroling "is better when singers have a relationship with their neighbors" - then it takes on additional meaning, he said.
Singers also get to introduce themselves and open a friendship with others.
One man who came out on his porch last year cried when he heard the familiar lyrics later wrote a thank-you to the church saying "it just made his Christmas," the Rev. Garrard said.
A couple of years ago, a choir from West Acres Baptist Church combined caroling with a progressive dinner that started with appetizers at the church on Gibbs Road in Evans. They proceeded to members' houses two or three blocks away.
Choir members made sure they had good shoes, coats and gloves, instead of Christmas-party attire, for walking in the outdoors, he said.
After eating, they sang their way back to church. "We had our party and the people around the church had a little Christmas cheer," said the Rev. Chris Norris, minister of music.
West Acres carolers also visited homebound members to give a little encouragement to folks who needed it, he said.
Generally, carolers are well-received, but not always. One man fussed at youths from Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church last year when they woke him with their singing. They will finish this year's effort by 5 p.m.
But older people usually enjoy getting attention from younger ones, said the Rev. Danny Key, minister of music. "The expression on their faces makes it all worthwhile."
He once considered dropping caroling to ease time pressures, but youth leaders turned him down. They said caroling to shut-ins was an important part of their own Christmas, he said. "It is a great experience for high school kids."
Caroling is especially appreciated at retirement homes such as St. John's Towers on Greene Street, said Kelly Thackston, activity coordinator. Residents enjoy the chance to sing the songs they've known for years.
To see anyone in the Christmas spirit often relieves the loneliness and depression that can blight the season, she said. "There are a lot of losses associated with this time of year."
But to have teen-agers and other young people visit is especially great - "It is wonderful," she said. "To see that youthfulness again in full bloom is delightful."
New Hope Community Center, 1136 Conklin Ave., will have its second-annual Christmas Caroling in Bethlehem from 6 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 23. Singers will return to the center for hot chocolate.
Last year about 150 people representing churches from Beech Island to Martinez and Hephzibah joined in. The group was interracial and interdenominational.
Their serenading was very well received, said the Rev. Larry Fryer, executive director at New Hope. "We just had a good time walking in the community, praising God."
For more information about the Bethlehem caroling, call 826-1961.
Carolers can find the words to favorite songs at the Web site www.chebucto.nsca/ai251/xcarol.html.
Singers are invited to New Hope Community Center, 1136 Conklin Ave., for the second annual Christmas Caroling in Bethlehem from 6 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 23. Carolers will cap the night with hot chocolate at the center. For more information, call 826-1961.
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.