Christmas Penance

They say karma is a bitch.    That what goes around, comes around.

And based on what happened to me this weekend,   I must have done some really bad things, and I ended up paying for it.  

You see, I was visiting the Big City to get some cross-country skiing in, and I was staying with Friar’s Mom’s.    She mentionned that there was a Choral Group performing that night at Church, and would I like to see it with her?  

It’s not church,  there’s no Mass, she reassured  me.   They’re just putting on a Christmas Concert.

“Are these serious professional singers?”,  I asked.

“They’re volunteers…but they’re quite good.”, she answered.

“I mean…this is a serious singing group, right?   Not just the regular-Sunday-Mass choir, where anybody can join, and they play the stupid chimes, and everyone sings off-key?”

“  You actually have to audition to join this group.”

“…so…it’s NOT going  to be like that amateur musical in Splat Creek that I just attended, where I wanted to gouge my eyes out….this is actually going to be GOOD?”

“Yes…I think it will be quite good…and it might help put you in the Christmas spirit”.

Seeing how I was tired form skiing, and I was just going to watch TV anyway, I thought, what the heck, why not?

Little did I know what I was  in for.



The church was packed, and the average age was 72.    Then the choir,  director and pianist  walked in…and THEIR average age was 75.    

This did  not bode well.

First warning sign: whenever there’s a white-haired lady sitting at a piano, in front of a bunch of other white-haired seniors,  you know you’re in for a loooonng evening.  

The men were in bow-ties.   The matronly women were dressed in red velvet, wrapped from shoulder-to-waist with a stringy silver shawl thing.     God help me,  but the first thing that came to my mind was they looked like plump Christmas  hams wrapped up in string.

The Lead  Senior  introduced the first  song,  making cute Old-Lady jokes….and everyone in the audience went “Ahhhh” and chuckled politely.


And they started singing.   

Picture 2 dozen grandmas facing you…the type of soft-spoken grandmas that  normally sit their grandkids on their lap and give you cookies. 

But suddenly these grandmas have transformed, and they’re staring at you,  with there with their mouths gaping open,  grimacing and bobbing their heads,  screeching out their high-pitched siren songs.  

It’s actually quite frightening.  

I hope you never have to experience that.

I swear, one of them was one of the original Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz.    Four foot nothing.   Her eyes were so crinkled up…seriously, I don’t think she had any pupils.

One man had an extremely large head…Good lord,  how did he walk with that on his shoulders?

Another  woman sat there a cane, appearing to be half-asleep.  Poor thing, she didn’t look like she had long for this world.

Still, the choir sang reasonably well.    Heck…this was free.    They were volunteers.   I just had to sit there and listen.   

 This wasn’t so bad, really.    I could take this…

But little did I know…



Suddenly,  there was a change in the program.   The conductor (who looked like Liza Minelli plus 20 years)  informed us that now WE will be having to work.    WE will be doing all the singing now…and the choir disbanded,  and sat among us.

A spherical woman squished past  me to  sit next to Friar’s  Mom.  A septuagenarian Librarian-type sat to my right.    Another baritone set behind me.

I was surrounded.

And now we were given song booklets, and we were to call out requests, and the whole church would sing.

I glared at Friar’s Mom.   My unspoken words were quite clear:  

This is exactly what I did NOT want to come hear.    You promised.   You TOLD me it wouldn’t be like this. 

Friar’s Mom just smiled at me, egging me on.    

And thus, we spent the next half hour listening the  Lowest-Common-Denominator Catholic Choir Sing-Song.

They sang  “Frosty the Snow Man”.   They sang  “Silver Bells”.  They sang EVERYTHING.

They even sang the “Little Drummer Boy”.

Nothing like hearing 200 people go “Pah-rum-pa-pum-pum”  off- key.  

Where’s someone’s hat-pin?  Maybe I can pierce my eardrums.

Of course, Friar’s Mom didn’t help.     

She kept looking over to me seeing, and delighted to see my distress,  she kept cackling with glee.   Then she deliberately raised her tone-deaf voice and sang like Edith Bunker.  And laughed at me again.

In perfect stereo, the Librarian sitting next to me  wailed in that reedy soprano-tremolo that only ladies of a certain age can (and like) to sing in.   The baritone behind me was trying to harmonize. 

Liza Minelli  got “into the groove”, and started to waddle-dance to the songs, quite pleased with herself at how “cool” she was.   

(Please stop doing that.   Please.)

Which everyone in the audience, of  course, thought was hilarious. 

Seniors everywhere were tapping their feet,   humming along.   Mommies tried to coax their toddlers children to participate.    The choir were bobbing their old-lady brush-cuts to the beat.  

A splendid time guaranteed for all. 

And truly I had entered the Seventh Circle of Hell.



Then,  in an attempt to be send us into a diabetic coma, they had the children to come  up and sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.


Because there is NOTHING I’d rather do,  than to hear some rug-rats sing,   especially rug-rats I’m not even remotely related to.

Of course, the kids stood there goofy and shy, and mumbled incoherently.

And of course,  everyone in the audience thought this was the bees’ knees.     You’d swear they just heard a performance of St. Michael’s Freaking Boys Choir, or something.

And I’m sitting there,  and it dawned  on me:

I”m single.  I’m 45.   

And THIS is how I’m spending my Saturday evening.



Just when you think it couldn’t have gotten worse,  it did.

It was the public singing of the “Twelve Days of Christmas”.    

With (Oh, joy) even MORE audience participation.

We were broken up into twelve groups, each one with a designated person holding a sign.   Everything time your number came up (i.e. “four calling birds”), you were supposed to stand, sing your part and  then sit down again. 

Oh, and EVERVYONE was supposed to stand up for “Partridge in a Pair Tree”.

Thus began the Simon-Sez Song of the Damned.

Partridge  in a pear  tree.    Two turlte doves… etc.

Stand up…sit down.   Stand up…sit down.

Just like Mass…only sped up.

As an added bonus,  the group singing “Five  Golden Rings”  had quite a  few ringers wrom the Choir.  

 These Senior-Bats sang their loudest.    Successively wailing louder and longer, each time, almost shattering the stained-glass widows.   

 The eight maids milking pretended to squeeze udders.

Good Lord.

Patridge in a Pear Tree.

Stand up.   Sit down.

The Five Golden Ring Ladies wailed louder.   “Five Golden RINNNNNNGS!”

One geezer pretended to hit them with his cane.   (At this point, I’m not sure if it was part of the act.)

Simon says stand up.     Sit down.

Lords leapt.

Five Golden RINNNNNNGS!”  (this time, almost knocking Sweet Jesus off the stations of the cross). 

Stand up.    Sit down.

Would this song EVER end….? .



It finally DID end.    

To get through the whole twelve days of the song, there were  

12 + 11 + 10 + 9 +  8 + 7 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 =  (what felt like) 10,317 repetitions.

There was coffee and snacks in the reception hall later.    I got to watch Friar’s Mom make conversation with peole we never met and will never meet again.

But I survived.

 I did my penance.

I sat through this whole thing, without killing myself  (or someone else).

Whatever it was that I did that’s so bad, I feel I’ve  more than made up for it.

And not that I’m a terribly religous man…

…but if this  doesn’t get me into the Gates of Heaven,  NOTHING will.

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31 Comments on “Christmas Penance”

  1. Amy Says:

    And you didn’t ustream it. I’m quite distraught.

  2. Brett Legree Says:

    No way Friar, you’re still going to hell.

    See, this is why I’m glad I’m married. Yeah, it’s a lot of work with four kids, but together we made our version of bangers ‘n mash, which was very tasty (especially when I washed it down with a couple of pints of Kilkenny)…

    Then I sat by a nice, quiet fire after they went to bed…

    No choir of Eldâr-KrΦnes, either.

    Heh heh heh…

  3. Cath Lawson Says:

    LOL Friar – It sounds like you had a long night. I was waiting for the bit where you met a nice woman who hated Celine Dion but it didn’t come.

  4. Deb Says:

    Where’s the video?

  5. I’m glad there’s no video. This is the reason I don’t go to church.

    The only thing worse than this is going to the Christmas Eve service to watch 5 bazillion over-tired kids jacked up on Christmas candy trying to act out “The Christmas Story”. Just watch the 3 wise men make wise cracks and the shepherds hit each other with their staffs. The “angels” trying to climb the walls…ACK!

    I’ll stay home thanks.

  6. Eyeteaguy Says:

    Told you you’d get yours back for posting paintings!

    If you’d posted Viking cartoons, your Seestor would have driven you to the peeler bar, given you your Mom’s credit card and come and got you when it closed. (Brett was waiting for you inside)

    But you had to post effing paintings….



  7. Davina Says:

    “I hope you never have to experience that.”

    Awh, gee that’s the spirit Friar. You’ve given me something to look forward to…

    I can hardly wait until my turn on stage in about 30 years. I’ll be scrutinizing the audience for someone JUST like you. I’ll sing to you with all my might with my mouth gaping open, flapping gums and all.

    Thank you for the inspiration 😀 Merry Christmas!

  8. Friar Says:

    In retrospect, I coulda recorded it on my Mom’s ipod.

    And posted it on a Webinar.

    I wish I’d known that now. Because if it made no difference in my Mortal Salvation, then what was the point of going?

    To be fair, a lot of the choir weren’t Eldâr-KrΦnes. But they got drowned out by the ones who were.

    There actually was one women my age in the choir.

    When she leaving, I saw a bunch of ski tickets on her jacket. So she was a skier.

    Looked promising. But she was taken. (It figures)

    This is NOT a video you’d want to see. (Trust me).

    @Army Wife
    The only people who give a flying fox-fart about kids’ performances are the parents, and grandparents.

    Yet, they continue to wrongfully assume the whole congregation is intersted.

    Maybe the priests do this on PURPOSE…for Penance, like I wrote.

    Sorry…next time, I should have consulted you first, before posting something.

    And if not you, then Seestor, who is the Eyeteaguy-Designate in your absence.

    I’m pretty muchy sure, it’s exactly as you say…

    I bet you some of these old ladies were doing this on purpose. To annoy a young whipper-snapper like me, to make up for something that happened to THEM, 30 years ago.

  9. Oh Friar….I watched the Saints Dallas game while drinking very wonderful rum laced eggnog and helped decorate the tree….afterwards chatted with some very quirky people ( some of them CANADIAN) on line and then joined Christian and Letitia for a certain spicy chapter in my book..I thought it was not so great an evening until I read this.. now I am thinking not a bad night… :)))) And phew…That Christian, if all English Lords are like this…. get me a visa.
    Ahh magnolia yourself. 🙂

  10. Donald Mills Says:

    I don’t know Friar. Act I sounded like a little slice of heaven to me. Nothing better than a gaggle of grannies with a love of song.

    I felt your pain regarding Acts II, III and IV though.

    Merry Christmas! And all the best 2010.

  11. Friar Says:

    Consider yourself lucky you didnt’ have to attend.

    Though you could probably have brought your bodice-ripping novel and sat there reading it. (Even Friar’s Mom brought her own knitting to help pass the time.)

    (Oh, Belve-deah! Come Here, Bwah!)


    If they had just stood there and sang, it actually would have been all right. In fact, I probably would’t have even blogged about it.

    It was the rug-rats singing, and the “Audience Participation” that set me over the edge. Good Lord…why do they do that to people?

    Oh well. At the very least, it made Friar’s Mom happy; her son spent some quality time with her.

    And you have a Merry Christmas as well!

  12. Once again I am cracked up!! I am reminded of years ago when I went to the “southern baptist” church and sat by the old woman with horrible pitch and a loud tambourine:)

    People actually requested these horridities!

    You mentioned your age (45) which reminds me….I am going to be 30 in a little less than 3 hours!

  13. Friar's Mom Says:

    @ All

    Wee Friar, you forgot to mention the 10 Lords-a-Leaping. Ten olde fellows wearing white shirts and red bow times skipped up the centre aisle a-singing and a-leaping. That was the best part.

    Friar has taken the liberty of writing a piece of Christmas fiction, sprinkled with a few bits of reality. Just as he does with his paintings, he takes artistic license. When he paints in watercolour, he takes a photo of the real thing with a camera and proceeds to paint his own interpretation. Depending on his mood, he omits a bit of the scenery, he adds a few things, he colours it differently.

    As far as the Senior ladies, I doubt if there were any in their 70s, except for the frail one sitting discretely, holding her cane. They were not all grayheads, one woman sported a long thick blond ponytail. Many women were in their 40s and 50s. I was certainly as old if not older than most of them, and I’m not yet 70. Friar’s math is completely wrong. It’s just his mathematical license.

    I elbowed Friar when the choir sang Drummer Boy and giggled at him when he rolled his eyes.

    Each spring and fall, the choir performs to a paying full house at an Art Centre. Yesterday’s performance wasn’t all Christmas carols. One of the most touching songs they sang so beautifully was You Raise Me Up.
    It reminded me of family camping at a lake, decades ago. The boys climbed on J’s shoulders, he raised them up and then they jumped into the water. “You raise me up: To more than I can be.”

    Wee Friar, I’m glad you joined me. We will have much to talk about in years to come. Your added bonus is that you gleaned original Christmas fodder for your Blog.

  14. Brett Legree Says:

    You’re lucky they didn’t make you eat raw broccoli.

  15. Friar Says:

    @Mommie Dearest

    Can’t say I’ve ever been to a Baptist Church. I hear their services are quite “lively”.

    Catholic Massess are quite predictable. You can set your watch by them.

    PS. Happy Birthday! Welcome to adulthood (but only if you choose to be an adult..I’m 45, and I still haven’t accepted it yet)

    @Friar’s Mom

    Oh, come on!

    Granted, I used a bit of artistic license. But the ladies weren’t as young as you say, either.

    I counted 3-4 who were probably in their 30’s or 40’s. But there was lots of white hair. If you had been in that choir, you’d still have been younger than at least half of thme. And you’re 69.

    And true..there was that long blonde ponytail. (But that was the Munchkin Woman..who wasn’t exactly a spring chicken!) It’s called Lady Clairol. And there was lots of it.

    You were quite accurate about the Lords-a-Leapin’. Nothing like watching a bunch of old men in bowties hop-scotch down the aisle. (I tried to block out that image, and had almost succeeded, until you reminded me.)

    Still, it was quality time spent with my dear old Mom. So it was worth it. We’ll be talking about this for years.


    You forgot to add “Eat it…it’s GOOD for you.”.

    I’ve been hearing a lot of that, lately. 😉

  16. Davina Says:

    @Friar’s mom… The math is wrong? Gee, that means I don’t have to wait 30 years after all for my turn on stage. Even better, I can marinate with the possibility of me watching Friar squirm in his seat and not some random stranger in my distant future. This just gets better and better. 🙂

    The best part about this is that you two enjoyed each other’s company and have yet another story to tell. As you say, Friar gleaned some fodder for his blog; put a smile on my face, it did.

  17. Friar Says:


    The true story probably lies somewhere in between my version and Friar’s Mom’s. 🙂

  18. XUP Says:

    I think it’s sweet that your mom wanted to show you off to all her church cronies. We let our mum take us to the Christmas Eve service at her church so she can show us off. We sit through 90 minutes of dour Lutherans singing their dirge-like versions of Christmas carols (in German). There will be no Rudolph or Frosty or 12 Days of Christmas sung at this occasion. If it doesn’t mention baby jeebus getting slaughtered on the cross and bleeding to death for all of us miserable sinners, it’s not a real Christmas song. Gord Bless Us Every One.

  19. So I am thinking Sting’s winter solstice album and video is a good thing to clear out some of eye popping experiences so vividly captured here from your Catholic Musicale Interactive… sheesh.. it’s not enough they make you do all that kneeling? I have all those Catholic Lords a leaping now… not at all like the one in my book.
    Wee Friar is very blessed… to have such family memories to share.. LOL.
    I dare you to do a cartoon of the whole thing and send it as next year’s Christmas Card.. HAHHAHAHA. or a banner…:))))))
    (I love the Viking Tobogganers btw)

  20. Friar Says:

    Wow…those Lutheran masses sound like fun.

    Though, I should add that this was the first time the choir performed at the church.

    The previous priest didn’t allow them to sing there, because some of the songs were commercial (i.e. Rudolph and Frosty and Silver Bells).

    Luckily, I guess the new priest was more open-minded.

    And you’re right about showing me off to the priests. Friar’s Mom introduced me to the Monsignour, and the new priest (who expected to see me there at Christmas!)

    God Help Us, Every One.

    And I was a Grinch. I was one of the few people who didnt stand-up/sit down on cue. Number one, I didn’t want to act like a trained lap dog. Number two..I was TIRED from skiing all day.

    A cartoon of that whole thing…WOW. That would be a project.

    I’ll have get back to you on that…! 😉

  21. steph Says:

    Oh my God, this was totally hilarious!! I too loathe this kind of event. But you told it so well. This is the truly wonderful stuff small-town short stories are made of.

  22. Friar Says:


    But the thing is…this happened in the “Big City”, when I was visitng Friar’s Mom! 🙂

    But if you want a real mall-town experience, you HAVE to see the local musical theater. (I have some pretty good stories…but that’s for another blog post!)

  23. Karen Swim Says:

    ROFL! As I read the story I realized that I like your Mom even more! Can’t wait to see what she in store for New Year’s Eve, lol!

  24. Kat Says:


    “We sit through 90 minutes of dour Lutherans singing their dirge-like versions of Christmas carols (in German).”

    I can relate to your experiences in the Lutheran church. I was raised Lutheran and I remember the mournfully beautiful hymns. Seems to me like Lutherans fixate on the sins of the people and the price (Christ’s death) a little more than most other churches I’ve attended (which now number a few Methodist churches, a handful of nondenominational, and a single Catholic sermon held off church grounds). All I know is at no other church was I asked to physically drive a nail into a cross with red fabric draped over it to represent my part in the death of Christ.


    As a member of my church’s chancel choir I’d like to tell you that not all churches are quite so ‘demanding’ on their audiences. In fact at our Celebrations of Christ we made the audience stand only once to sing the final verse of O Holy Night with us.

    Now.. Come another forty-something years when I’m in the appropriate age range for the choir you’ve described, who knows? Maybe we will have progressed to the point of forcing stand up, sit down performances from the audience. Maybe not. We’re Methodist after all. In the meantime, I’ll make a note to dye my hair for the crowd’s benefit. ^_~

  25. Friar's Mom Says:

    @ Kat,

    I must clarify a fact. The choir in question, invited to our church to perform a Christmas Songfest, is a volunteer community choir and is not affiliated with any religion. Hence the sitting and standing was not part of a church service, it was an amusing way for the audience to participate in a lively rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas.


    CBC had a phone in show today and the question was “What Christmas song annoys you? and Why?

    Are any of you annoyed with a particular one?

    Wee Friar detests “Drummer Boy”.

    I can never enjoy “We Three Kings”. As soon as I hear it, I’m reminded of the lyrics I heard in my youth — “We Three Kings of Orient are, smoking on a nickel cigar, it was loaded, it exploded . . . Bang! We two kings from Orient are etc. . . . Silent Night.”

    @ Wee Friar,

    I never asked you why you detest that song? Is it the parumpapapum?

  26. Friar Says:

    By new Years’s Eve, Friar’s Mom will probably already be at her ski resort destination in BC.

    Looks like I’ll have to figure out a way to spend New Years Eve without her.

    See what you have to look forward to in a few decades?

    Make sure you dye your hair, and also put on tons of make-up too, in an unsuccesful attempt to fool everyoen that you’re really 25.

    And make your you get the “Old Bat” haircut. Buzz-cut on the sides…and poofy on top. 🙂

    @Friar’s Mom
    “…it was an amusing way for the audience to participate..”

    Yes. Amusing, provided you’re over 65. Which I was not. But which 99% of everyone in the church WAS.

    As for the Drummer Boy? Why do I hate that song?

    Original 1960’s version with the choir is so dour and depressing.

    When the male baritones start going “Rum Rum Rum”, I want to throw myself into oncoming traffic.

    The Christmas cartoon version was the lamest of all the CHristmas cartoons. The Drummer Boy doesn’t have the timeless appeal of Rudolph or the Grinch. He’s just ass-hat.

    Lyrics are lame. Pah rum pah pum pum pum pum over and over.

    “The ox and lamb beat time…” …..STUPID. The image of the critters doing that annoys me.

    It’s a horrible song to listen to a group sing off key in chruch.

    Every other cover version of the song has sucked. Especially the pretentious one with David Bowie and Bing Crosby).

    …Need I go on?

    Just so you don’t think I’m totally grumpy, there are lots of songs I like. Favorties are Hark the Herald Angels, and Nat King Cole’s Chestnuts Roasting Song.

  27. Kool Aid Says:

    Oh, THAT had me laughing really hard! This is exactly why I love my church – “Rock n’ Roll” church as my in-laws call it. They are what could easily be called a rocking band and they light up the stage like an actual concert. It’s awesome!

    But I’m so sorry you had to pay that penance..

  28. Karen Swim Says:

    I vow to never dye my hair a freaky color that makes it blue or blonde. I also vow never to have someone see me from the back and think I’m young and scream in horror when I turn around. If this ever happens I will align the parts by any means necessary.

  29. Kat Says:

    @Friar’s Mom

    Helpful to know. Makes more sense now that an audition was necessary and that the choir was not always allowed to sing at the church due to ‘commercialism’.


    “Make sure you dye your hair, and also put on tons of make-up too, in an unsuccesful attempt to fool everyoen that you’re really 25.”

    Mmm, I don’t think I’ll go that far.

    “And make your you get the “Old Bat” haircut. Buzz-cut on the sides…and poofy on top.”

    And I don’t do buzz-cuts in any shape or size. =p

  30. Friar Says:

    @Kool Aid

    Especially when they had a Calypso/Jamaican themed carol (forget which one it was). But someone played bongos. (Must have taken them at least an hour of practice to get that good). And the conductor raising her eyebrows and jabbing her elbows in the air (to show us how “hip” she was).

    Like you said…it was AWESOME.

    Heh heh. Somehow I just CAN’T picture you as a blonde. 😉

    But you describe it very aptly….seeing someone from behind and screaming in horror when they turn around.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself!

    I don’t think you have a choice. When you get that age, you’re supposed to look that way. It’s a strictly enforced bylaw, as I understand it .

  31. […] Well, it’s that time of year again. Some people are doing Christmas Penance as they stand and sit for every verse of The Twelve Days of Christmas, others are hanging lights […]

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