It was a dark December night in McMichael Park, at the corner of Henry and Midvale Avenues, but dozens of candle-lit paper lanterns illuminated a path to a small stone stage where volunteers passed out candles to neighbors of all ages.
One by one, people lit their neighbor’s candle until there was not a face left in the dark. Wednesday’s 26th annual East Falls caroling in the park event went off without a hitch–trumpet players and lead singers warmed up the crowd for a number of traditional Christmas carols, from Joy to the World to Silent Night.
Katherine Rick-Miller, the pastor at East Falls Presbyterian Church says that the sing-along aims to slow people down in a hectic world, and is a symbol of a strong neighborhood.
“I think this is a really busy season, and so just that grounding in family and community,” she said. “there’s nothing commercial about this,” she added. “Except Santa.”
But even Santa only offered candy canes and a listening ear while attendees enjoyed homemade cookies, hot apple cider, and the piano music of Wendy Moody.
Moody is a former librarian of the East Falls Library and is the co-founder of the sing-along.
She says that the original plan was a mix of a holiday celebration and a way to encourage residents to visit the library. But over time the special night evolved into meeting at the local Presbyterian church. Besides that, Moody says nothing has changed in years.
“I like the continuity–we’ve always had the holiday trumpeters, and the lead singers,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll still be at the piano,” she added. She also heads the “Wendellas” a women’s choir that offers concerts at the local library.
From start to finish, she says the event is volunteer run and focuses on bringing residents together.
“We even have cookies made by neighbors, so every part of the event has to do with people sharing their time and giving,” she said.
For most of the event history, Moody says she missed the singing in the park because she was setting up the cookies and hot cider. But now that she’s retired she can sit back and just enjoy it–especially if it snows. She says the crowd varies but the turn out is high–this year more than 150 people came out.
“A lot of it is weather pending, and somehow when it snows it brings out more people,” she continued. But with the temperature warming to 40 degrees last night–snow didn’t have a chance.
But Chuck Mueller and his six-year-old daughter Camilla Rose were ready for the season anyway. They donned matching Santa hats with reindeer antlers poking out of the seams. He says they’ve never missed a sing-along.
“We’ve been coming since she was three months old, in rain and snow and beautiful weather like this,” he said. Mueller says that it kicks off the holiday season for his family. “It’s part of our Christmas, honestly.”
Originally from the suburbs he says that nothing like this went on when he was growing up, “This is the kind of centralized community I missed out on,” he added.
Organizers say they are one of the largest carol sing groups that perform in a local park left in the city. The event was sponsored by the East Falls Community Council, Friends of the Falls Schuykill Library and East Falls Presbyterian Church.