Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Solitary Eve Remembered

In my memory, the streets, the sidewalks, the trees & bushes, the bridges & pathways were blanketed in powdery snow. I remember no ice, though it was cold. Very cold. The sky was never blue but rather an icy gray. It had been snowing for days. Austria could not have looked more like a picturesque winter wonderland if it had tried.

The small city – Saltzburg – in which I found myself that Christmas Eve was both foreign & familiar. People hustling about doing last minute Christmas shopping, yet without the glare of consumerism. Saltzburg, in the gently falling snow & cold felt too old-European for such garishness. Yes – so idyllic in my memory.

That evening – Christmas Eve – I was bound & determined to go to church. I simply always had. Not because of any particular Christian longing but out of a culturally bread sense of spirituality on this eve. But this was Saltzburg so going to church meant taking my Protestant self to Catholic mass. In a massive, echoing cathedral that was as inviting with its Christmas greenery & candles as it was strange with its Latin accompanied Catholic rituals. I stood in the back in a mass of people, most of whom were quiet, only occasionally respectfully whispering. They too might as well have been speaking Latin for all I understood. I stood gazing in wonder at the looming cathedral ceiling over my head – Catholic art work on display – saints watching, gazing back at me – the Protestant intruder in their midst? They were welcoming & comforting – oddly enough. An unseen choir sang from the rafters, its eloquence magnificently filling up every inch of space in the cavernous cathedral. A priest spoke somewhere way down in front. Through the crowd – I never saw him. Just heard his rhythmic Latin chanting.

It was not the simple, spiritual Christmas Eve of my youth. No. But it was moving in its own unique way. I recognized some of the music played & sung - a genuine connection from Catholicism to Protestantism, from Austrians to the American in their midst.

I stayed an hour. Then I left. The mass was still going on. Leaving the crowd behind indoors & walked outdoors into the quiet winter wonderland of snowy Saltzburg. Alone I walked, taking my time, listening to my feet crunch in the snow, as I crossed a bridge headed back to the hostel where I was spending the night. My solitary walk home that Christmas Eve I remember well. One of the best Christmas Eve’s I have ever spent.

8 comments:

  1. Awesome! I think it must be in our DNA to find comfort in the age old utterings and rituals of long gone ancestors.
    In the 1970s around Oct/Nov, I was in the mountains of the Czech Republic visitng relatives and Sunday morning I went with the cousins to church, We walked maybe 1/2 mile and we came to a little wooden structure, blackened with age. The place was ancient and the alter was a simple affair - not what you'd expect in a Catholic church. We climbed to the loft area where I suppose a choir stood on holidays and I remember the sense of belonging even though I could follow very little of the mass. And I thought "this is the place where my ancestors worshipped." One of them may have once occupied that very same space.
    Of course, it is also in our DNA to come from a family of smart asses so when the priest lifted the wine chalis to drink, one of my cousins whispered in my ear,"Nozdrovy!" Which, loosely translated is "Cheers!" I started to laugh and unfortunately the acoustics in that hcurch were quite good - if you could have seen the look I got from that priest and people turning around to look up at the loft...

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  2. That's a great story, Rocky. Tops my post!

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  3. Thanks but I loved your post and it triggered that memory so if you hadn't shared it, I would not have thought to share mine!
    I did wonder though how old you were and why you were there all alone.
    Aren't those old European towns wonderful? It's like walking into a fairytale. I used to look at the buildings and think we Americans think of antiquity in hundreds of years but many of those places had been there thousands of years.
    I need to put a return trip on my bucket list.

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  4. Austria in winter - I'm shivering even though it's 75 here and now. I was there in '66 - '67 as a student which would have made y'all small children at the time. I'm afraid my only spiritual experience was a bottle of 151 proof rum, but I won't profane your reminiscences with mine ;-)>

    Tshc├╝ss

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  5. That was lovely Squid. If you're fond of Austria, you should check out Marcellina's blog on my sidebar under Atriots. She lives there and is always posting gorgeous pictures of the mountains.

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  6. Thanks for the comments, All. How wonderfully interesting that you all have Austria related stories & info to share.

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  7. My almost solitary Eve was more than 20 years ago … spent inside the Budolfi Domkirke, the old cathedral in Aalborg, Denmark. There were two lists of Bishops who presided in this church, pre-reformation and post-reformation. What struck me was the name, Kierkegaard, generations of them who presided there. Either/Or, religion was in their blood.

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  8. Maybe Kierkgaard is a common name like Smith. :)

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