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A little-known Kalamazoo Christmas tradition: caroling at City Hall

A second floor view of Kalamazoo civil service employees caroling around the Christmas tree in the atrium of the Kalamazoo City Hall.  Some are wearing red sweaters, holiday hats and headbands, and Christmas sweater vests, but most are in regular work attire.
Leona Larson
Civil servants and retirees caroling around the Christmas tree in Kalamazoo City Hall on Dec. 19. The tradition began in 1978. Workers will carol every morning this week until Thursday.

The singing got underway Monday morning, and will continue through Thursday.

At City Hall civil servants gather around the Christmas tree in the atrium to carol. Most are wearing regular office attire, but one is in a Santa hat and another, a red fedora.

Retired housing inspector, Lionell Ford, has taken part in the caroling since it started in 1978. Ford recalled how his job could be hard because he had to field complaints, but caroling with his colleagues before work helped him face those complaints with compassion.

“I remember one day, the very first call I had coming from was a mad citizen. Oh, he just gave me heck. I just smile and just, just listen. Just, it just made me a better employee. A better human being.”

Ford retired 12 years ago. Still, he looks forward to coming back to caroling at City Hall in the days leading up to Christmas. He shares stories with friends and colleagues, like the time they caroled for the Kalamazoo City Commission or how the tradition was started 44-years ago.

“There was a print shop downstairs in the basement of City Hall. The manager, Jim Parks, he sang in a choir,” Ford said. “and he just happened to organize Christmas caroling in the atrium. And it was such a popular hit. It's been going on ever since.”

Well, almost ever since. Caroling at City Hall was cancelled for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first year back, and the first time caroling for the Kalamazoo’s new communication manager.

“As a new employee for the city I was really struck by that,” said Michael Smith, who started his job at City Hall five months ago. “I was really excited to come down and be a part of that for the first time.”

Priscilla Dibble works in the City Treasurer’s Office. She’s been working and caroling at City Hall for 32 years. Dibble was the event organizer before the pandemic. Even though she doesn’t do that anymore, she did say the public is welcome.

“Between 7:30 and 8 a.m. this week, through Thursday,” said Dibble. “We're going to do it Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday yet this week, 7:30-8. Come bang on the front door, bang on the back door. We'll let you come sing with us.”

Ford said the tradition always included the public participation.

“We've had people walk in off the streets. We've had individuals from nearby businesses downtown in the mall, who would love coming to sing Christmas carols in the morning to start their work day as well.”

But Ford said, most people don’t know about it.

“If the if people knew about it, people would be here more,” he said.

If you wake up early this week and what to join them, the Kalamazoo City Hall carolers want you to know they aren’t professional singers, just city workers enjoying a holiday tradition.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.