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December 6, 2013

A 67-year-old caroling tradition

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Dennis Potts, in his third house in Kenwood, grew up in the neighborhood the seventh of eight children, and moved back in 1999 after his mother died. Some of his fondest childhood memories were the Christmas Eve carols.

"For us it was always a family event," he said. "We bundled up, got in our warm clothes, and carried thermoses of hot chocolate our mom made for us. It was always beautiful."

The tradition is simple. On Christmas Eve, just as it's getting dark, residents gather around the circle in the heart of the neighborhood, with kids and with dogs running between people's legs as they pass out hot drinks and cookies. Then Ruthanna starts playing her little piano. People sing along from songbooks whose pages are more wrinkled every year.

Ruthanna plays all the classics, including "We Three Kings," during which three older male neighbors each bravely take a solo. Her favorite is "Up on the Housetop." After almost an hour, accounting for all the encores, the evening closes with "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Reluctantly, people part, already looking forward to the next year, promising to dress warmer and bring the rest of their family.

A few Christmases stand out. One year, former neighbor Kendall Wheeler brought a horse and carriage and led rides around the neighborhood. Another year, 187 people showed up, the neighborhood record.

Kenwood is known for other annual traditions, such as the Fourth of July parade in which kids decorate their bikes and ride to the circle behind firetrucks. At Halloween, one family converts its home into a haunted house. In spring, another family hosts an Easter egg hunt. The cherry blossoms, of course, are Kenwood's most famous tradition, drawing huge international crowds and sprouting lemonade stands on every other front lawn.

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