A New Christmas Carol

March 10th, 2014

Do you have a favorite Christmas carol you’d like us to sing? “Yes,” my neighbor said. Then she added, “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

My friends and I were caroling. Much as we’d done for over 35 years, we went door-to-door playing guitars, banjo, and spoons; singing and collecting Christmas donations for a local day care center. And, as we traditionally did, we asked my neighbor the question: “Do you have a favorite carol?”

We were surprised at her response, but not so much so that we couldn’t oblige the request! We merrily belted out the old refrains of Hank Williams’ newly christened “Christmas carol”: Your Cheatin’ Heart. Written some four months before his death in 1953, his song became an instant hit shortly after his death. And now, 60 years later, it’s a new Christmas classic!

But I don’t want to talk about how songs get added to the Christmas carol play list. I don’t want to complain about cheatin’ spouses. I don’t want to talk about Hank Williams. I want to talk about caroling for 35 years.

I work with the nearly and newly retired who are struggling to fill the hole where work used to be, discover a wonder-filled sense of purpose, replace the friends they left behind, and keep up! Today I want to talk about retire to great friendships, and, in particular, how you can go from fun to meaning to tradition.

I had a great deal of fun caroling when I was a kid so it seemed the perfect thing to do when my own daughter was growing up. It didn’t hurt that Nashville had a caroling tradition; the Fannie Battle Day Home used caroling as a major fundraiser.

Now, our family doesn’t think of Christmas without scheduling caroling. Let’s see...“We’re going to decorate the house, buy presents, and go caroling.” Right?

Activities like these bring meaning into our life. So, I’d like to talk to you about how you go about building a tradition that stretches 35 years.

First, make sure what you do is fun.

If you don’t like doing it, it won’t likely happen more than a few times. That doesn’t mean you strike gold the first time you swing the pick. So, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. We took the extended family and bicycles off to the Smokies one summer. Though we all had a good time, we could never get enough traction for making the trip a second time. It was not enough of a good time and entirely too involved logistically. No sweat; we’ll keep trying new things to blend in with the old standbys.

Second, don’t fret over the 35-year thing.

All you really need to do is plan the next event. Before you know it, you’re looking back on a string of past events and will have something worth looking forward to. The string will take care of itself. Plan the next event to be special. Again.

Third, add some meaningful particulars.

We always collect donations for the day care center. Some years it has been entirely too cold for guitar playing outside. When that happens, we invite the neighbors over and take up a collection at our house.

Remember and repeat the details.

Our caroling event is not done when the singing is done. First, there’s the table of goodies and hot chocolate waiting at our house for the carolers’ return. With cocoa in hand, we get the instruments out again, and sing some old favorites. A few songs have become traditional, and the guys in the band have oft heard me say, “Now we’ve sung that, we can start Christmas.” We do these songs every year.

This list is just a starting point. Like us, don’t be surprised when you look back and find you can count this stuff by the decade.

In my book, Retire to Great Friendships, How to Build a Network of Fun and Support, I laud the kinds of activities I’ve described here as ritual, things repeated with meaning. Your retirement will be a richer place if you start (or continue) building rituals into your life.

How is your retirement going? Do you have any traditions you’d like to share?

I invite you to read the book and discover the many other ideas I’ve presented. More details can be found at Retire-to.com.

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