Dressed for Success
While taking a break from the stress of study for their upcoming engineering exams at North Carolina State University in Raleigh one cold winter evening, Watauga County natives Toby Atwood and Terry Carroll decided they needed some fun to break up the monotony.
After returning prematurely from a dull party, the cohorts decided to suit up in their long handle underwear and swoon some nearby coeds with their renditions of popular Christmas carols.
“It was sort of a simultaneous thought to put on our long johns and head over to the coed dorms,” Carroll said. “How does that come to mind? I have no idea. Between being an engineering student and studying for finals, I guess your brain becomes a little fried. We just needed some fun.”
The duo had so much fun, Atwood and Carroll decided to take the caroling to the streets of downtown Boone.
Forty-one years later, the tradition lives on.
“Without fail, we always come back to Boone sometime between Dec. 15 and 23 for a gathering of the Long John Carolers,” said Carroll, who now lives in Wilkes County. “It’s kind of like home for the holidays, because that’s where we grew up.”
The “Long John Christmas Carolers” namesake has stuck and become a fan favorite among last-second Christmas shoppers who need a bit of cheering up amidst the rush of the holiday season.
The surprised look of seeing underwear-clad adults singing fun and interactive Christmas songs has helped keep the tradition alive.
“We end up hurting from laughing so much,” Carroll said. “People seem to really enjoy it, and there’s people who really expect it.”
The group of carolers typically makes stops at the Boone Mall, area retail locations, and various community nursing homes, before ending the evening at Golden Corral.
While members of the caroling ensemble have moved to communities far beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains, they have taken the tradition with them.
Groups of Long John Carolers have also been spotted at area shopping malls in Raleigh and Charlotte, garnering attention from the local press, Carroll said.
“We are pretty unified as a group,” Carroll said. “We have unusual words to some songs that catch people by surprise, such as instead of ‘Walking in a winter wonderland,’ we say, ‘Walking in our winter underwear.’ We also have a different chorus to ‘Jingle Bells.’”
Carroll said some people might wonder when this group of oddly dressed carolers will grow up.
“I’m not sure when a 60-year-old might ever grow up,” Carroll said.
Want to Join?
To join the carolers’ fun this year, meet at the Horn in the West parking lot at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21. Dinner at the Golden Corral, located at 187 Watauga Village Drive, starts at 7 p.m., and caroling will resume afterward.