Amsterdam Xmas

I was in the Amsterdam Youth Hostel sitting in the guest lounge. It was Christmas Eve in the mid-60s. One other person was there.

We introduced ourselves. His name was Keith Tinker.

“I’m from Canada. Where are you from?” I asked.

“Scotland,” he said. It was a standard introduction for knapsacked students travelling through Europe at the time. Normally there would have been more people in the hostel, but it was the Holy Season when young people are mostly at home with their families.

It was close to midnight. Keith and I decided to go for a walk along the canal outside the hostel. Snow was falling gently and a few ducks were swimming lazily on the water.

Soft as a ghost, the sound of music came wafting through the midnight air from a church across the canal. It was the Introit of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in Amsterdam’s English Episcopalian Church at Groensburgval 42. We found a footbridge, crossed the canal and entered the cathedral-like structure. It was gorgeous inside, decorated with white Christmas lights. We were ushered to an empty pew halfway to the front.

The eucharist ritual proceeded through Readings to the Sign of Peace. I turned around to shake the hand of the person behind me. It was a beautiful young woman.

“…and also with you,” I responded.

The Eulogy was short, a brief Christmas message about the Christ child born 2,000 years ago. Keith and I were both Anglicans, so we went to the altar for Communion.

The service ended. We made our way to the back and were about to leave the church when the woman who had stood behind us at Mass tripped us up.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Where are you from?”

“Canada…Scotland,” we said as one.

Outside we chatted. It was past one in the morning and we wondered if a restaurant might be open. Sure enough! Not far down the canal was an Indonesian place where we ordered that famous 18-dish meal called Rijsttafel (rich table) that Amsterdam is known for because of The Duth East India Company and history leading up to Indonesian independence in 1949. People brought their culture from there.

The meal ended. We all shook hands. The woman went her way and we went ours back to the hostel. Christmas Day would come soon enough.

If I had been at home in Canada I would have gone to my sister’s house to watch my nephews and niece open presents.

This Christmas I spent the day sleeping in Amsterdam.

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