Tis the season to be merry and sing a little tune. Energetic and joyful songs like “Deck the Halls,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “Jingle Bells” can be heard around the world and here in the great state of Oklahoma – starting almost as soon as Halloween is over. Christmas caroling is a tradition that has been passed down through the ages and its participants are as diverse as its songs. Carolers range from children to adults and include groups from schools, churches and even veterans. Caroling can bring people together, and encourage everyone to get into the Christmas spirit.
Veterans Who Carol
Employees at the Veterans Affairs’ Muskogee Regional Benefit Office have conveyed merriment to hospitalized veterans for the last 15 years, says Jacob Nichols, senior staff assistant.
A week or two before Christmas, carolers visit the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee and sing a variety of carols for the veterans and their families.
“Our employees, many of which are either veterans or the family members of a veteran, take great pleasure in the opportunity to bring a little holiday cheer to our veterans,” Nichols says.
The carolers walk through the medical center as they croon holiday favorites, so all patients, staff and visitors can enjoy the music. The group may sing a couple of songs in the main lobby, then stroll through the in-patient wards, he says.
“I can’t answer for the patients, but I think they appreciate those who take time out of their day just to bring them some cheer while they are healing,” says Nita McClellan, chief of voluntary service at the medical center. “It seems to brighten everyone’s day and help veterans take their minds off being in the hospital.”
VA officials aren’t the only ones bringing cheer to the public this season. The Fort Gibson Chamber of Commerce and citizens of the community work together for the town’s annual tree lighting ceremony and kick off for “Shop Fort Gibson First,” organizers say.
“We love to have carolers each year, and rely on members of the community to volunteer, from the high school choir, ladies groups and church groups,” says Jessica Fowler, executive director of the Fort Gibson Chamber of Commerce.
This year, the lighting of the Christmas tree event features carolers from the First Baptist Church.
“It’s always a fun time, and caroling really gets everyone feeling the Christmas spirit,” Fowler adds. “It’s great when the crowd starts singing along.” Fort Gibson also has a Christmas parade and activities for families Dec. 4.
Ozzie’s Caroling Choir
While caroling for some is about community and cheer, one group sings to honor the man who inspired them as teenagers.
From 1950 to1972, the director of choral activities and the concert choir at Capitol Hill High School in Oklahoma City was Albert Clarence “Ozzie” Ossenkop. He motivated his students through music – so much so that a group of alumni formed Ozzie’s Capitol Hill Alumni Choir.
“Ozzie was just one of those guys who cared for and mentored and inspired a lot of kids,” says Randy Parsons, director of the choir. “We all have a love of singing and of Ozzie.”
The ages of the 30-member group vary, but the one thing they all have in common is that Ossenkop directed them during either the ’50s, ’60s or early ’70s.
Decades later, Ossenkop still inspires his students through music. To further honor their mentor, the choir only sings songs that they sang in high school choir.
“Some of our best memories are when we would sing as a choir at Christmas time,” Parsons says. “We’d do the program at the school and we’d be invited to sing at various activities. It was thrilling to get to do that. We loved to sing at Christmas time for the various groups.”
Parsons says the alumni start the program off with the song “Sleigh Ride” and end it with “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Other songs they include are “Jingle Bells,” “Christmas is Meant for Children,” and “Carol of the Bells.”
The group didn’t officially form until about two years ago when Sam Chesnut called fellow Capitol Hill alumni Randy Parsons and Rick Fisher. Thanks to reunion lists and social media, they reached out to many choir alumni.
The last time many of the members saw or sang with Ossenkop was when he was living at a senior living facility more than seven years ago. It was during the holiday season, so they sang many beloved Christmas carols with their mentor. Ossenkop died in 2011, and to honor his memory, the group begins caroling season at that same facility each year.