Voeux de Noel
It was Christmas Eve and I was awakened by the staccato blending of footsteps in the hallway interspersed with snippets of German and French conversations. A nap had been in order after a long afternoon wandering narrow streets and photographing the Old Town . I lit a candle and snatched my blue satin journal and pen enroute to the window seat of the quaint pensione. No snow. Yet. But this was Lucerne, Switzerland, so my hopes were up for a first time bonafide white Christmas.
I’m an American girl from the deep south where white Christmases were never seen. Instead, balmy Christmas Eves were replete with local legends of St. Nicholas arriving by pirogue, powered by a team of alligators. I would miss mama’s fine seafood gumbo and tart de bouille, but this Christmas my heart was searching for a sky full of delicate crystalline flakes falling softly from God’s heaven. And a rich experience that would be the impetus for my assigned travel article, “Glimpses of a European Christmas.”
“Guten abend, fraulein!” I smiled entering the café, anticipating a scrumptious Christmas Eve dinner.
“Bonsoir, mademoiselle! “ I was slightly more comfortable with French, though I considered all languages ,except English, foreign.
“Bonsoir. Joyeaux Noel,” I warmly replied to the waitress. I recognized lively Italian conversation nearby. Switzerland was indeed a country of varied foreign languages.
Enjoying French cuisine at my window table, suddenly two small eyes peered in, startling me, and just as quickly disappeared into the night. I saw a small girl, maybe six or seven years old, darting across Friedenstrasse ; she was scantily clad, without outerwear, except a red scarf on her tiny head. I felt unsettled and prayed silently for her safety. Would her Christmas wishes come true?
I was bound for midnight mass at Jesuitenkirche. “Follow the Reuss River along Rathausquai and cross the chapel bridge called Kapellbrucke,” were my directions. With ample time for a leisurely stroll along the river, I soon spotted the octagonal tower of Kapellbrucke. A million multi-hued twinkling lights adorned the 14th century wooden covered bridge as I stepped into the living Christmas kaleidoscope. Carolers sang the familiar melody, “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” from the tower, like angel voices of old. Families shuffled quickly in both directions , perhaps on the way home to tuck children in before St. Nicholas’ arrival or to attend mass. But no snow. Yet.
The twin spirals of the old stone church beckoned me into its sanctuary, bathed in candlelight and incense. Wistful melodies drew me to the manger. Ornately robed priests announced the hopeful story, then ancient bells broke the sacred serenity with glad tidings.
I heard shouts of “Es schneit!” to which I added , “It’s snowing!” as I walked into the frosty night. A Christmas wish fulfilled! But somehow I was drawn back inside the church. My footsteps echoed in the empty sanctuary as my eyes spotted a little girl curled up in a back pew, with a red scarf on her tiny head!
“Bonjour.” Sleepy eyes opened to greet me. Ah, she was French.
“Merry Christmas, little one. What is your name?”
“I’m Claire, who are you?” she inquired, sitting upright.
“I’m Michelle. Where are your parents, Claire?”
“I’ve never known them.”
“ Where is your home? You must get there before Papa Noel comes!”
“I have no home. I sleep here… it’s warm. And Papa Noel never finds me,” she said solemnly.
My head was spinning…what should I do, Lord?
“Come with me… you’ll be safe. But let’s pray first.” Claire squeezed my hand, praying fervently.
As the church door opened, a swirl of snow blew in, leaving a small red wool coat and white fur hat and muff at our feet.
“My first Christmas wish!” Claire exclaimed. Amazed, I bundled her up and we soon arrived at my pensione.
A small flannel nightgown lay on the bed . Claire squealed in delight, quickly changed , and dove under the down comforter.
“Bonne nuit, Michelle.”
“Good night, sweet Claire.” Such a wondrous night… what would Christmas Day bring?
Tantalizing aromas awakened me at dawn. I rolled over to see Claire hugging a beautiful china doll at a table filled with pastries, cheeses, and steaming hot cocoa.
“Meet Aimee. I dreamed of her last night!”
I poured cups of cocoa and we partook of the lavish breakfast provision. The sky was full of crystalline flakes falling softly from God’s heaven to our world below, where Christmas wishes abound.
Voeux de Noel: Christmas Wishes
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