About a week ago, I saw a sign on the door to our building, inviting everyone to some kind of caroling happening tonight. Since the sign was in German, I only understood a little, but I recognized the contact person as one of our English speaking neighbors who we are friendly with, so I asked her about it. She explained that there would be caroling in the “house chapel” (I didn’t know we had such a thing) but I got the impression that it was maybe more for adults and less for kids. It sounded like fun, but I also guessed the songs would mostly be unfamiliar, and almost certainly in German, so it would probably be more struggle than enjoyment. Given that, plus the fact that Dan’s parents would be visiting us, I decided to skip it.
This evening, just as we were walking out of the house to show Dan’s parents the Rathaus Christmas market, in all of it’s enthusiastic vibrance, we got a phone call from that same neighbor, asking us if we were coming to caroling. We thought about it, but again, decided not to go, since Dan’s parents were definitely not interested, and we were headed out the door to do something else. As it happened, we arrived back home just 15 minutes after it was supposed to have started, so, on a whim, I decided to go.
The entrance to the “house chapel” is in the courtyard adjacent to ours. I went through the wooden door, as I’d been instructed by our neighbor, and was met with absolute darkness. Assuming I’d made a mistake, I turned around to leave, and just before the door closed, I heard the sound of very soft singing coming from above. In the dark, using my trusty iPhone, I walked up the stone, spiral staircase to another wooden door, and pushed it open. There, in the dark, were about 25 of my neighbors, only one of whom I’d even met before, each holding a candle, singing O Tannenbaum. I felt bad for intruding, so I started to sneak into a spot against the wall, but a man pointed out a pile of song sheets and a basket of unlit candles, and he lit my candle for me once I’d acquired it. A woman sitting by the door pointed out an empty seat, and I hurried to find my spot.
The very next song in the list was “Jingle Bells” — in English. I happily sang along, and then joined in and sang with another half dozen songs or so — my sight reading, though rusty, served me pretty well, and luckily, I’ve studied enough German at this point to be able to sound the words out closely enough. (Although, I’ll admit that my brain got a pretty good workout trying to do both the sight reading and the German pronunciation at the same time!)
The caroling ended with “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”, which was written and first performed in Austria, outside of Salzburg, and is one of my favorite carols), and then, at the end, they turned on the lights, and I got to see how beautiful the chapel is. It’s ornately painted and gilded — beautiful and so very much what I would expect a Viennese chapel to look like. And, as it turns out, it’s located 4 floors directly below our apartment. I had no idea that it was there.
It was a wonderful time. The singing, and the candlelight, in the chapel was just perfect — soft, warm and welcoming, even for a stranger like me. I felt very much, as I sang in the chapel, surrounded my neighbors I don’t yet know, like I belong here — like I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment. It was a profoundly “Christmassy” experience. I’m so grateful that I went.