Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Switzerland 2009

An old Glavin tradition was revisited on Christmas Eve. Clearly the Christmas spirit was lacking for Team Glavin and something needed to be done. We walked through town, looking right and looking left with the hope that there would be a tree somewhere. Unlike the United States there isn’t a parking lot full of Christmas trees on every corner, no fire departments, boy scouts or schools looking to draw in that last customer on Christmas Eve. There are 3 trees in front of the supermarket and you first thought is “surely there are more pine trees than this in Switzerland.” A quick glance to the Alps behind us and one’s confusion is well placed, evergreens everywhere. Where’s a timber saw when you need it? Didn’t I see a few candidates on the cold, hilly, walk home last night? We’re on a mission, we need to pick one. This isn’t the Bazaar in Istanbul, no hard bargaining like in my youth when I watched my dad, on Passyunk Avenue, say “Mister, you can sell it to me for $10 or burn it tomorrow with the rest of the one’s that didn’t sell.” We pull the “bar code” off the Christmas Tree and head into the clerk and they “ring it up” like you just bought block of cheese.

Ann, Pearse and Seamus stand at the bus stop, tree in hand laughing at the picture unfolding in front of us. Here we are, tree in hand, no car to speak of and skiers waiting to get on the bus. More than a few folks look and wonder “Are they actually getting on the “free” ski bus with a Christmas tree?" Aunt Mary would be mortified but I suspect that the pop-pop’s would be proud. Seamus is grinning, a bit unsure but knows this will help with his early morning concern, “Dad it doesn’t really feel like Christmas.” The tree is not exactly White House material, actually it isn’t exactly Charlie Brown material. I’d say that it is a tree that requires some imagination and creativity to pass as a yuletide decoration as it is as skinny as any actress in Hollywood.

Our Christmas Eve, believe it or not, is marked by rising temperatures. Is it possible that Edgmont, PA is having its first White Christmas while we are watching the Alps turn from white to green/brown before our very eyes? Pearse sums it up best “That’s just not fair!” His disappointment is short lived as the smell of the 3 kilo turkey roasting with mom’s stuffing is wafting through the house. The tree is trimmed, the kids are showered, the food is on the table; the Christmas spirit has been resuscitated.

As we make the walk from the house to the Church everyone is giddy. It feels like an old Christmas movie as we walk down the mountain, past the train platforms, through the quaint little town giving a wave of the hand here and a nod to a passerby there. Merry Christmas, in English, translates to almost all we pass. It is 10:45 PM and the windows to the stores are subdued with ambient light and signs that say “closed” yet they still seem festive as they are still cloaked in Christmas cheer. The road to the Church is tucked between the Coop, the store where acquired our “pine scrub” called a tree and the clothing store, Mont-Bell, that requires a credit score of 750 to shop there. Naturally it is “uphill” to the Church. The big melt that is taking place minute by minute makes the former “icy walk” to Church less challenging than last Saturday. There’s no click, click, scratch, tap of the special ice shoes that are worn by the older women making their way to Church.

The 3 boys are slightly ahead of Ann and me. As we open the door to the vestibule the entry door to the Church has been “down sized” to mimic the actual size of the door to the “Inn” at Bethlehem. Eamon looks at me, a smile creases his face, and he says “Dad we’ve walked thru the ‘real door’ in Bethlehem, remember?” I think to myself, “This is a moment I won’t forget” as my eyes water with a sense of appreciation for the opportunity to share in such a moment with my oldest son.

The small Church is crowded and Team Glavin needs to split up. Eamon and I head to the balcony. Projected on the wall behind the Altar is a picture of the actual door in Bethlehem and a wonderful focus point for this Christmas Eve Mass filled with music, unique decorations and the celebration of the Mass in German. Good thing I loaded the readings onto my Blackberry so Eamon and I could read them and get a feel for the liturgy. I am pretty sure that the folks behind us thought we were reading e-mails during Mass. We probably made the conversation in their house and they will have a Christmas story forever filed under “Ugly Americans do Christmas Eve Mass in Grindelwald.”

The Mass was beautiful, I think, and from the balcony I could see Pearse’s head bob up and down a few times. It surely wasn’t the toe tapping melody of the German Christmas hymns. I suspect it had more to do with the late hour and the tired little body from 3 hours of sledging earlier in the day. His Christmas Eve is over as the hour struck 12:00AM. His first Christmas wish, as we exit the Church “Dad can we take a taxi, back up the hill?” Funny but I am pretty sure his mother’s first Christmas wish was the exact same request. As we come down the hill from Church we make the right onto the main drag and peer intently thru the fog, looking towards the train station. “Is that a yellow bubble on top of that van?” “Does it say taxi?” “Could the first Christmas prayer be answered so quickly?” The 5 of us climb into the taxi grateful for the leg sparing walk up the mountain.

Pearse climbs into bed beckoning Seamus to make the commitment to sleep too. Pearse is excited hoping that Santa can find him in Switzerland. He is at the age where he wonders but doesn’t want to make a “verbal commitment” one way or the other about the man in the red suit and white beard. His intellect tells him one thing but his little heart tells him something different. And so goes the age old question “Does he or doesn’t he?” As the last bit of light squeezes from his room Pearse yells out “Good night dad and don’t forget the milk and cookies for Santa!” What can a Dad say to that?

6:45 AM arrives early and Pearse declares “I got my snowboard and bindings!” The rest of the morning is a blur as Eamon, Seamus and Pearse open gifts and i-Touches, black berries and computer games begin to come to life from their hermetically sealed packages. There are smiles everywhere and loud laughter as Seamus opens his “chocolate” Swiss Army knife. He was hoping for a “Huntsmen” Swiss Army knife, the one with the corkscrew. I asked “Why do you want a knife with a corkscrew?” and Seamus replied matter of fact “Dad, you never know when a party might break out and we’ll need a corkscrew!” How do you argue with that logic?

The 2 peaks of the snow covered Swiss Alps, visible from the living room windows, are the backdrop to the wonderful Christmas scene unfolding in front of us. If you look at the peaks just right they look like a craggy, capital “M” as if they approve of our Merry Christmas in Switzerland.

Team Glavin says “Merry Christmas to everyone," and "Yes Pearse there is a Santa Claus!”

Snow is falling in Grindelwald!