It was a strange thing, I must admit, standing in an old French chateaux with a roaring fire going, singing Silent Night in Dutch.
The path that led me to that point wasn’t as complicated as you might imagine. Well, thirty one years of living were involved, and I had had to make the decision to leave a career, travel parts of the world and then move to France, all of which has been a heck of a fun journey, but once in France, my involvement in the decision making process which ended in me singing Christmas Carols in Dutch was remarkably low.
You see, the Dordogne region of France is fairly well saturated when it comes to expats. 20,000 Brits alone call this part of the world home. Then there are the Dutch, who have also come here in their droves. There are some French people left (I’m pretty sure of it), but if you want to find someone to speak to in your native tongue (assuming you are Dutch or English), it’s not exactly a challenge. Usually you just need to find your neighbour.
With this thriving and active expat community comes the option of taking part in a whole bunch of activities, from learning French, to singing Christmas Carols, to joining the local darts team. Since throwing sharp pointy objects around is not something I should be allowed to do, getting involved in Christmas Carols seemed to be the way forward.
The actual reality of the proposal was a little different if I’m honest. I was asked if I wanted to attend a carol service, held in a chateau, which was going to be followed by a giant pile of hearty grub. And mulled wine. This sounded rather jolly, and wonderfully Christmassy. And having spent the last two Christmasses of my life in the southern hemisphere, I was quite excited by the idea of a crackling log fire, some miserable Christmassy weather to hide from, and some cheering Christmassy, well, cheer.
At heart, I’ve always loved the idea of Christmas. Even if the kind of Christmas in my mind, largely influenced by Hollywood I suspect, bears little resemblance to the usual truth of miserable greyness, a snowless day, and overeating. Ok, so overeating isn’t the end of the world. But the lack of crackling log fires, holly festooned snow coated boughs and platters laden with suckling pig does occasionally mean that Christmas isn’t quite up to the Spielberg-esque production my mind conjures up.
A castle with a crackling log fire, piles of grub, mulled wine and people singing cheerily sounded just like the sort of thing to start the festive season off with a bang, and so it was that I found myself agreeing to attend the nearby Chateau hosted Christmas carol service.
Upon arrival, it was pleasing to find that the hall was not just populated by Brits, but had also attracted the attention of both French and Dutch folk. There was a gigantic log fire in a gigantic fire place, giant vats of mulled wine and rather oddly, a huge sculpture of a slice of bread coated in nutella dangling from the ceiling.
There was also, rather ominously, a lack of a choir, and instead there was a lady with a microphone handing out song sheets. It turned out I had been slightly misled as to the carol service, in that the attendees were the choir, and we were intended to entertain each other. To embrace the joy of multiculturalism, three languages worth of hymns were represented, English, French and Dutch. Which explains, at least, how I ended up singing Silent Night in Dutch.
Rather unexpectedly, and possibly as a result of the free mulled wine, I ended up having a tremendously jolly time. Singing Christmas Carols in a large crowd of people all out to have a good time is a bit like a giant Karaoke session, and I am an expert at that. There was singing, there was dancing, there was glugging. Then there was eating, followed by more eating, followed by a pudding competition which required more eating, followed by a raffle which we managed, as a unit, to entirely fail at winning.
And then it was back through the murky foggy night to home, and bed. Christmas is thoroughly here, and I’m now ready to enjoy it properly. Action!