Sunday, December 20, 2009

A EUROPEAN CHRISTMAS

"Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance--each beautiful, unique, and too soon gone."
- Deborah Whipp

One of our more memorable family Christmases was spent in Europe in 2000. Rachael was just finishing up a study abroad program in Paris and my mother was going to Germany for the holidays, so we decided to take the boys to pick up Rachael, explore Germany with Mom, and travel through France with Rachael as tour guide.

Several of our most beloved Christmas decorations were purchased in Germany and Austria on that trip. With Mom gone now, they mean even more to me. Every year when I get them out, I will remember the wonderful week we shared with her in her homeland.

The first two were purchased in Rothenburg, an absolutely gorgeous medieval walled city in Bavaria.

Fisherman smoker/incense burner

Appliqued tablecloth

The others were purchased in Salzburg, Austria, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, especially during the Christmas season when all the Christmas Market stalls are set up in the city square and the air is filled with the heady aroma of the hot Christmas wine everyone (well, almost everyone) drinks and the scent of roasting chestnuts, which my mom loved and we consumed several times on the trip.Polish Christmas tree votive (I loved Polish pottery even then, three years before Sam's mission):

50 or so gold straw stars for our Christmas tree

Two Christmas fairies
We had many, many memorable experiences on that trip with Mom, a subject for another post.

After about a week with Mom, we went on to France and she stayed in Germany with friends. December 24, 2000, found us first in Chartres, visiting the massive cathedral with its famous blue stained glass window.
Later that morning we attended sacrament meeting in Rachael's ward in Versailles. A sweet man slipped unbidden onto the bench next to Bob and whispered an English translation of the meeting to us. The humble simplicity of the sacrament meeting, chapel, and members contrasted sharply with the massive splendor of what we had just seen at Chartres and what we would see later that day. It was kind of like the contrast between the humble shepherds and the wealthy kings who visited the Christ child--both wonderful, just different. After church we visited Rachael's host family (I wish I had a picture!) and were touched by their love for her.

We spent the afternoon walking around the Palace of Versailles with its wonderful assortment of "rainbow rooms" (each a different bold color and decorating scheme) and its exquisite grounds. We ate very little all day to prime our appetites for what we anticipated would be a delicious Christmas Eve dinner in a nice restaurant. Much to our dismay, we discovered that NO restaurants were open anywhere in Versailles on Christmas Eve. Unlike in the United States, everyone was home with family and friends and the streets were silent. We ended up eating incredibly disgusting cold Chinese take-out from a nearby Asian "deli," the only place we could find that was doing business.

We went to Midnight Mass in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Versailles (not to be confused with THE Notre Dame in Paris) and reveled in the pomp and pageantry of the ceremony, but the most memorable thing about the mass was that the magnificent, bellowing organ behind us in the organ loft had a key that kept sticking, causing almost uncontrolled giggles from our bench. Still, it was a beautiful (and very educational) service, full of fervor and devotion.

On Christmas morning we opened a few small gifts in our hotel room, then spent the day wandering up and down the Champs Elysee in Paris.
In the end, being together
was the best gift of all.
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