Merry Christmas, from Prague

I’m now completely convinced that this place really is the capital of Christmaslandia. And I mean that in a good way. All week, we’ve wandered out in the evenings to see the families and the friends enjoying the Christmas market, with its festival foods and its hot wine and its small local performances.

Last night, Christmas Eve, we went to our favorite local restaurant for a fabulous dinner, and then sat in a bar and drank a couple of beers, waiting for what was for us, the main event: a performance in the square by singers from the Czech national opera. The music was all unfamiliar, both to me and to R., who knows way more about classical music than I ever will. Parts of it sounded German, and parts of it sounded Russian, which makes me think that it may have been Czech all the way around (and given that the only Czech composer whose work I know is Smetana, it could well have been). It was absolutely gorgeous, though; a chorus of about 24, with four soloists, and an orchestra of maybe a dozen pieces, performing under non-ideal circumstances (outdoors, under a canopy, in something like 30 degree weather, with heat lamps, uneven mic-ing, and a pretty tinny amplification system), but through all of that, just beautiful.

After the performance ended, and bows were taken, the ensemble launched into one last song, which I can only assume was a very familiar Christmas carol. The orchestra played the opening bars, and as the conductor raised her arms to bring in the chorus, she turned to the assembled audience in the square, and brought them in as well. And several hundred people sang along.

At that moment, more than any I’ve had since I’ve been here, I really, really wished I understood Czech.

This is what I want from Christmas from now on: no malls, no sales, no holiday specials on television, no forced gatherings, no ridiculous overflow of presents. No pressure. Just being exactly where you want to be, with exactly whom you want to be, hearing the music and knowing that everyone around you is having, collectively, their own variant of the same private experience.

Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating it today. May your experience of the day be as personal and as communal as ours in the square last night.

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