Although it’s cold outside, every memory I have of December is warm. Perhaps it’s because of so much time that spent indoors. Maybe it’s heat from the furnace. On the other hand, it could be that I love this time of year the most.
Winter is the Earth’s sleep. At least it feels that way to me. Nothing grows; everything just stays hidden by the weather until spring—when life returns, fuller. The nights are clearer, have you noticed? As a star watcher, I love the fact that Orion is so obvious and distinct in the winter. The Orion Nebula is one of my favorite wonders to explore.
I have memories of Christmas in many different places. Various smells, sounds, people, and tastes fill my recollection of these fanciful celebrations. No, I’m not Scrooge—wishing I had lived different and remembering Christmas as it should be. I’m happy today, and surrounded by love and family. It’s interesting, though; my favorite memory of Christmas is also the loneliest.
In 1993, I was living in Paris, serving an LDS mission. Paris is a city that’s full of life and culture—most of the year. In December, it’s rainy, sooty, cold, gray, and well—it feels empty. Similar to any large city, there are holiday decorations, and sidewalk vendors offer their offering for the season. It’s the first place I ever saw people roasting chestnuts in kettles. That was cool. Because the weather was so awful, we spent a lot of time indoors or underground. The Louvre was a favorite place to mingle and talk to people. I love art, so that was a welcome treat. I sent postcards from downstairs—they put a special Louvre stamp on every letter they mail from the post office there. Did you ever read The DaVinci Code? Well, that post office is just down the hall from the inverted pyramid, one of my favorite places to hang out at the Louvre.
But I was alone. No friends, except for the other missionaries I was assigned to live and work with. No family. There weren’t presents for me. I don’t know if any were mailed. If so, I never got them. That’s okay—remember, this is my favorite memory.
On Christmas Eve, a dozen missionaries met and sang carols at different spots in Paris. It rained, a chilled, biting rain that soaked through my jacket and pants. I caught a cold that day. We stood in front of Notre Dame sharing music with tourists and locals. We couldn’t have sounded good, but it was fun. That night, a few of us rode with a family to a celebration north of the city. It was the strangest thing—we celebrated Christmas South American style.
That was the night I learned that “Oyo Como Va” wasn’t written by Santana. It played over and over and over during the party. To this day, every time I hear that song, it reminds me of Christmas in Paris. Weird, huh? We ate, and sang, ate more, told stories, and played games. I received a white scarf as a gift. That was my only Christmas present that year. As midnight approached, we headed home.
There was a point along the road where we came over a hill and saw the most spectacular view of the City of Lights. Paris was beautiful. It was dark and wet, but every scenic spot was bright with color. I had seen Paris every night for a month, and had always enjoyed it, but I’ll never forget that view. I could see the whole city. It was an image so vivid that I still see it in my dreams. At that moment, I realized how special the day had been. I didn't get anything for Christmas, except a white scarf, and I didn't care. At that moment, while accepting the wonderful view, I felt the love and peace of a perfect child who was born to save us all.
Christmas in Paris was perfect...and that memory is my favorite.