PNC went caroling last night. During the lead up to the event, we had mixed response from some of our community: many loved the IDEA of caroling, but when asked if they would be there, balked. A few gleefully explained that they had another commitment and couldn’t attend. I gently teased those people, imploring them to at least give it a try.

The night began at The St. Clare Centre, the same room where we meet on Sundays. A group of us baked last week, so that there would be an assortment of goodies to enjoy. We also shared apple cider and pop, popcorn and chips. I had no idea what to expect in terms of numbers. And then guess what happened? The room packed out and we had a wonderful assortment of more than thirty people! A longtime PNC’er remarked, “how are we going to do this with so many people?” What a great problem to have.

We gathered around the open doors of storefronts, sang around the Christmas tree in the Public Library, marched into the Dollarama, took a request in the Coffee Time, performed for the security cameras in the lobby of a Toronto Public Housing building and on and on. Ernesto, a community member, accompanied us on the harmonica (or mouth organ as he kept correcting me). Everyone warmly welcomed us, sometimes obviously perplexed at why we would be offering to sing a carol. Some people pulled out their phones to video us, others clapped, all seemed pleased. The very old tradition of caroling still means something, especially during a season that has become stressful and even sad for so many people. A song is a simple gift.

I found myself thinking about the gifts that the magi brought Jesus so long ago as I witnessed the gift-giving of two of my friends last night. One cuts paper, both as a creative outlet and a serious coping mechanism. I have never seen him without bags of scavenged paper and his scissors. He presented a paper cut-out…snowflakes, trees, angels…to as many people as he could, including every store owner we greeted. One is a Native man of small stature, street-involved and struggling with alcoholism. He delivered our caroling group a box filled with hot chocolates and “pops for the kids”. Yes, I wept.

Caroling has been a tradition at PNC for many years. I can assure you, next year we will be out again. Until then, imagine us singing, “We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”