When I was in my 20s I had occasion to visit the village where Silent Night was written. Since I was living in Munich it wasn’t that much of a journey to travel to Oberndorf, a small town near Salzburg, Austria. It was cold. That kind of cold where your breath freezes in the scarf you’re breathing through and makes it colder and moist when you breathe back in. I walked through the quiet village I’d come to, looking at the holiday windows. Holiday decorations in Germany are gorgeous and understated. Often religious, they are beautifully simple with wooden ornaments and woven straw, white lights and greenery.
Everything in the town was closed. It was Christmas Eve 1984 and I was so far away from home. I was a young woman in a foreign land and I was homesick. The village I was standing in was beautiful; like the front of a holiday card. I remember thinking about how still everything seemed. In particular I recall the added layer of quiet from the blanket of fresh snow that was falling all evening as I walked. I’ve come to realize over the course of my lifetime, that sort of quiet is hard to find. When I walk into those moments now, I cherish them because they are fleeting. It’s rare that I find those feelings of peace and serenity in my current reality.
I heard the snow crunching under my boots as I walked, and while there were streetlights glowing, everything was hard to see. The lights were almost hazy from the snow falling in perfect cadence and patterns around me. As I look at it in my mind’s eye, it was one of the most perfect nights I have ever experienced.
At midnight I went to the church where Silent Night was first performed in 1818. I listened as a small group of singers came out of the church and performed the song to a guitar accompaniment just as it was done the first time more than 166 years before that night. The world around me was cold, beautiful and literally frozen. The folks I stood with were holding candles with the little paper circles at the base to stop the wax from falling onto their gloves and mittens. It was a beautiful night of peaceful moments. I felt my mind quieting and expanding into the cold and snow around me. I was close to my family that night; which was odd. They were so far away.
I search for that quiet on snowy mornings like the one I walked out to today. When I am very lucky I can still hear the silence. Despite that I am in a different time of my life and carry noise borne of many miles traveled since that snowy Christmas Eve, I work hard to focus on the still and my own intent when the snow is fresh and the trees are covered with white.
I was thankful this morning for the snow. Just for a moment I was seeing and listening to the quiet with the mind of the young woman I was. While I don’t want to join her or retrace her steps, it was good to be with her again.