Why you should care

Because it takes more than mulled wine to raise your spirits. 

Elana Rabinowitz’s work has appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Christmas caroling could be fun — right?

It’d been a tough season. I lost a great job opportunity and was still single, so when my friend John invited me to a caroling party, I prepared for a night of merriment and mingling.

I had moved temporarily into the basement apartment of John’s brownstone after my dream job in South America evaporated. He had been so generous to let me rent his place that I couldn’t refuse the invitation.

But now I was facing a fashion dilemma. What does one wear to a Christmas caroling party? More a matzo ball kind of gal, I was unfamiliar with this form of holiday cheer, but I kept an open mind. I tried on a few dresses, but since the party was in hipster Brooklyn, I opted for jeans and a black top — a sexy number with gold lamé in the back. I added a pair of high-heeled black boots, and voilà! I was ready for the festivities.

I had always loved parties, but as I got older, making small talk became an absolute chore, and it was easier to decline the invitations than endure the awkwardness. But this year had been too rough to spend the holidays alone. Just two months prior, I had lost the baby I tried to have on my own, the opportunity for a scholarship fell through my fingers and then there was the dream job that wasn’t to be. So this party was about more than singing. It was about putting myself out there.

When I arrived, there were only 10 or so people there. Seated on couches, they all seemed to know each other and were already singing in very high octaves. Not exactly the holiday party I was used to. Mine were crowded rooms of old friends swarming like vultures over my freshly made latkes, or loud open bars where inevitably I’d be dancing to ’90s hip-hop.

Dropped into a sea of red and green, I felt like Kim Kardashian in my low-cut black blouse.

John greeted me, offering a cup of mulled wine from a simmering silver pot on his stove. He introduced me to his parents, who were visiting from out of town. I was used to attending parties solo and knew how to work a crowd, so it was surprising when the carolers seemed reluctant to speak to me. They preferred to reminisce about college and psalms, putting me at a loss for what to do. This was their tradition. I desperately missed mine, filled with chocolate gelt, spinning tops and familiar faces.

I took off my jacket and felt the cool air against my back, becoming suddenly and painfully aware of my outfit. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was adorned in Christmas sweaters — colorful woolen garments I’d seen only on Christmas cards and stock photos of idealized American families. Dropped into a sea of red and green, I felt like Kim Kardashian in my low-cut black blouse and ran to retrieve my pashmina to cover up my exposed back.

I found my way to the kitchen, the safe zone at any party, and replenished my cup of mulled wine. I met another outsider in the kitchen to talk with and was finally beginning to have some fun, laughing loudly, when the singers gave me the stink eye. Apparently, there was a protocol to caroling parties, and I was breaking it.

I just wanted to leave. I took a final gulp of my potpourri-flavored wine and then I heard it: Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is …”

Finally, a song I knew! I was cast back in time, watching an episode of Little House on the Prairie in which the Ingalls family sang this hymn. I knew the words and could sing it badly, but at least I could be part of something. And I needed to be.

I was pleased to join in for a song or two, but I felt it was time to go. I hugged John goodbye and made it down the steep staircase and called a car service. Standing at the bottom of the stoop, I wondered if I would ever attend a party with a plus-one. That night, much like the weather, it felt like a minus-one.

As soon as I got home, I traded the black blouse for charcoal-gray leggings and a black T-shirt. I poured myself a tall glass of water to flush out the wine and thought about the evening. And suddenly I was humming: “Go tell it on the mountains, over the hills and everywhere …”

As the holidays roll around again, I am still navigating the season solo. It’s tempting to try and hold tight to the past and its familiar traditions, but I am determined to build a new future of my own. I can’t say yet what shape that will be, but I’m betting it will be filled with holiday cheer. Joy.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.