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Fa-la-la Fever: Christmas Caroling

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Girls caroling

Pictured are (in front, from left) Laren Michelman and Gianna Vela; (in back, from left) Sydney Fell, Chloe Chang and Sloan Goodman, spreading a lot of good cheer singing for their Bellaire neighbors.

Accessorized with blinking Christmas light headbands and necklaces as well as elf-earred and jingle-belled Santa hats, Condit fifth graders Laren Michelman, Gianna Vela and Pin Oak eighth graders Sloan Goodman, Sydney Fell and Chloe Chang had their voices warmed up and their lines rehearsed. They were ready to hit the streets of Bellaire to spread Christmas joy with caroling. 

The unsuspecting neighbors were told that a friend would be dropping something off during a certain window of time so the carolers knew the homeowners would be home. Sydney’s parents, Heidi and Eric Fell, were Singing Santas’ helpers who took caroling up a notch, rolling along their fully charged “on wheels” bluetooth karaoke machine stereo and light show.

Appreciative neighbors included Donna Daniel, Marlene GilbertBecky Tullos and Greg Spiller. The carolers received their own surprise of some delicious cookies. 

Becky said, “It was really uplifting and made our night.”

Here are some more caroling stories from Buzz readers. 

Sing-a-longs and Stockings

McStravick family

How many McStravicks does it take to sing over 50 Christmas carols in one night?! A lot! Pegi Newhouse smiles in the group photo with lots of relatives including husband, Bob, and children, Thomas and Lizzy.

In the mid-’60s, Mildred McStravick, lovingly known as “Gram” to 26 grandchildren, began the Christmas tradition of a family sing-a-long at her home in West U. 

Granddaughter Pegi Newhouse, a baby when the tradition started, shared, “As long as I can remember, we would go to the sing-a-long to eat a meal together (around 50-60 people) and then sing Christmas carols. Starting with the newest baby in the family, to whom we all sing 'Hang up the Baby's Stocking' and then we go in birth order until we get to the oldest relative. Each person selects their favorite Christmas carol and we all sing it together.”

Armed with songbooks bursting with holiday lyrics, the “next up” McStravick offspring chooses any song in the book, even if it had already been chosen earlier in the day. (Who wouldn’t want to sing "Rudolph" a 14th time?) The only exception is the marathon of all Christmas caroling, "The Twelve Days of Christmas", which can only be picked one time because it’s too long to sing more than once. A favorite request is "Blue Christmas" sung with lips snarled "Elvis Style." It takes about three hours to get to the oldest person who, this year, is 90-something-years-young, Uncle Don. 

Pegi said, “We always honor Gram by singing her favorite carol, "Adeste Fideles" in Latin. Then there’s always a few McStravicks that keep the fun going belting out traditional Irish songs topped with some Aggie yells. Pretty funny!”

Music and Memories

Andrew Tyler

Andrew Tyler looking grand on the grand piano. Lucky audience members gathered to hear Andrew play "Für Elise" and "Ode to Joy." 

This year marked the 10th anniversary of The Granger Tylers’ Annual Christmas/Holiday Piano Recital & Music Celebration hosted by Seth Tyler and Susan Granger Tyler and their children: Paige, a St. Agnes alum and Tufts University freshman, Ethan, a Strake Jesuit senior and Andrew, a Pin Oak seventh grader.

Susan shared, “The tradition started selfishly because we didn’t want our kids to quit music, nor did we want to waste piano lessons’ money! We decided to create an end-of year recital to inspire the kids’ and their friends to keep playing and practicing.”

Over the years, dozens of talented artists have performed with the Tyler kids. 

Ethan said, “Kids have played all sorts of musical instruments such as cello, harp, bagpipes, viola, guitar and drums. Performances have including singing, reciting poems, ballet, Scottish dance, and even interpretative dance to Christmas music. It gets real fun real quick!” 

Ethan Tyler, Susan Tyler, Seth Tyler,

Concert pianist of the Granger/Tyler Family Holiday recital, senior Ethan Tyler gets special hugs from his biggest fans, Mom and Dad, also known as Susan and Seth. This was Ethan’s big finale last performance as next year he’ll be away at college for the annual party.

At this year’s gathering, the crowd was wowed by some masterful piano playing of classics performed by Ethan and also by his fellow Strake friends, Eric Lara and Will Johnston

Tyler kid number three, Andrew, showed off his own wicked piano skills as did his buddies, the Glover brothers: Brody, Patrick and Christian. Other under-18 performers included Austin Wrubel, Paul Houston and Sabina Houston, a sixth grader at St. Thomas Episcopal School, who livened up the crowd strumming a sing-a-long to "Jingle Bells" on her ukulele. 

The audience was further treated to some delightful Christmas music by special guest performer, Anne Patterson, Ethan’s piano teacher for the past seven years who Ethan’s parents appreciate for encouraging him to keep playing despite the nagging feeling that it’s about time to quit! 

During intermission, guests jingled and mingled with festive food and cheers-worthy holiday drink concoctions in the Tyler’s ready-for-Christmas Bellaire home. 

Holiday Spirit All Year Long

Patricia Ellmer

Crème de la Crème preschoolers sang Christmas songs at Brookdale Memorial Oaks. The children were treated to a sing-along with piano player and 88-year-old resident, Patricia Ellmer.

Meet piano player extraordinaire, Patricia Ellmer, who has been playing for church choirs, weddings, and funerals since she was 13. She relocated from Mississippi to Houston a few years ago to be closer to family. Her daughter, Evelyn Snow, shared, “Even though Mom is 88, has dementia and her memory about most things is fading, she can still read music and play the piano. She plays every chance she gets.” 

Patricia still has lots of her songbooks and enjoys having people sing along. If you ever visit Brookdale Memorial Oaks, where Patricia lives, you just might find her tickling the ivories during the Sunday church service, playing songs for the preschoolers that visit monthly from Crème de la Crème, adding some ambience to the dining room or encouraging her fellow young-at-heart residents to join in singing some oldies-but-goodies in the living room. And perhaps best of all, it doesn’t even have to be December to hear Christmas music because Patricia likes playing and singing carols all year long. Don’t we all?

Caroling for a Cause

Caroling for a Cause

Trey Lozano is all smiles when Kelsey and Cambel’s Caroling for a Cause participants come to sing for him and his mom, Shirley Davis, every year.

Friends look forward to sisters Kelsey and Cambel Cadien’s annual Kids Care Caroling for a Cause event they have been hosting for the past seven years. Guests meet up at the Cadien’s house and bring donations of clothing, shoes, baby necessities and other items to benefit local homeless family shelters like The Mission of Yahweh and the Madge Bush Transitional Living Center.

Valerie Lee and her daughters, Delila and Maddie, have joined in the fun the past five years. Valerie shared, “My girls love to volunteer and give back so Caroling for a Cause helps them do both. We love the caroling. It's so much fun walking down our street singing to our neighbors. It reminds me of my childhood.”

One of the special stops the carolers make every year is at the home of 29-year-old Trey Lozano who lives with his mom, Shirley Davis. Trey has been bedridden for the last eight years with a debilitating brain disease.

Valerie said, “Over the years we have watched Trey progress from not being able to speak at all to now being able to say a few words. It’s very heartwarming every year when our group goes inside the house to sing Trey’s favorite holiday songs and he lights up when we arrive.” 

Warm up with Wassail 

John and Kathryn James have gone caroling with various groups over the years and like to serve wassail back at their house on Pine St. to warm up the carolers. And since it is south Texas, yes, it can be served chilled, too, for those muggy December nights! 

James Family’s Recipe for Wassail

The recipe came from Houston’s Bank of the Southwest located downtown. Kathryn and John worked downtown in the ’70s and would visit the bank lobby’s Santa House where Mrs. Claus served free gingerbread and this wassail. The bank and the free gingerbread may be gone, but not those special holiday memories.

2 qts sweet apple cider
2 cups pineapple juice
1 ½ cup orange juice
¾ cup lemon juice
1 cup granulated sugar
2 sticks whole cinnamon
1 tsp whole cloves

Recipe directions: 
Combine ingredients and bring to a boil. Serve hot (or cold, depending on the weather).

Bellaire fire station

After a Christmas gift exchange and holiday games at their house, sisters Ava and Mia Naomouz headed to the Bellaire Fire Station with their friends to sing Christmas and Hanukkah music.  

Christmas Caroling 101

  • If Rudolph, Frosty and maybe even “He’s a mean one” Mr. Grinch are inviting you to do the Jingle Bell rock around the Christmas tree, here are some tips to help you enjoy a not-so-silent night of caroling:
  • Wear fun holiday accessories and colors 
  • Print song sheets for singers
  • Pick 4-6 favorite songs and sing just one verse or a shortened version of each song
  • Practice a few times before you go
  • Remember to smile!
  • Call ahead to some houses to make sure someone will be home
  • Visit people who you think might enjoy your caroling or neighbors that could use some cheer 
  • Consider caroling at local fire stations or senior centers but be sure to call ahead to schedule and confirm availability
  • Holly Kennedy, Valerie Lee,

    Holly Kennedy (on left) and Valerie Lee (on right) warming up to start singing and spread some holiday cheer. Other adults enjoying the party included Tawana Cadien, Kelsey and Cambel’s mom.

  • Emma Davis, Maddie Lee, Delila Lee

    Emma Davis, Maddie Lee (back) and her sister, Delila Lee, looking over their Christmas songbooks. Emma was extra excited since was her very first time caroling.

  • Holly Kennedy, Valerie Lee,
  • Emma Davis, Maddie Lee, Delila Lee

Holly Kennedy, Valerie Lee,

Holly Kennedy (on left) and Valerie Lee (on right) warming up to start singing and spread some holiday cheer. Other adults enjoying the party included Tawana Cadien, Kelsey and Cambel’s mom.

Emma Davis, Maddie Lee, Delila Lee

Emma Davis, Maddie Lee (back) and her sister, Delila Lee, looking over their Christmas songbooks. Emma was extra excited since was her very first time caroling.

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