This memory takes us back to another winter’s visit to France during the Christmas period. Always wanting to catch up with our friends Merv, Helen and their son Ollie, and experience something new each trip, we decided the nativity play at Corlay was the perfect occasion to meet up, enjoy the play and afterwards have a chat over a warm drink at the bar. We were particularly looking forward to hearing about Ollie’s recent bike riding tours in the French Alps as he was now home for the winter season. I’d also read the chapel, which was originally built in 1424 by Alain IX de Rohan, had a beautiful alabaster altarpiece which dated from the eighteenth century so I was keen to see this.
We were looking forward to this play as the last time we attempted to watch a nativity play, at Church Saint-Briac at Bourbriac, we ended up mistakenly sitting through a very long Mass surrounded by remnants of straw and organic evidence of donkeys and sheep. These were strong clues that we’d missed the nativity play and ended up at Mass instead.
On meeting Merv, Helen and Ollie at the agreed hour, which we had thought left us plenty of time to get seats together, we found a packed church with only random rickety wooden chairs free, so we split up and took a seat wherever possible. I was on the end of an aisle with Anthony, and Paul was a couple of rows back with Emily and Thomas. The air was thick with anticipation as parents, grandparents and locals all squished into the over full chapel. Then the play started and what an amazing experience it was.
With live donkeys, sheep and a spare little pig or two being lead up the two side aisles by the cherub faced primary school children it was all adorable. Mary, Joseph, and the wise men were a little older and kept their eyes out for the very young children walking beside them. Baby Jesus was happy enough being carried and placed in the rather well used straw lined basket and we could see his Mum sitting to the side of the stage ready to help out if needed.
As the file of children proceeded to get closer the odour of burning natural fibres seemed to get stronger and stronger and to my astonishment a young girl came level with me with the bottom of her long hair emitting smoke and in the candle’s flame of the little boy behind her. Without wanting to make a scene and being hampered by my lack of French, I motioned what was happening to Paul. Do I touch a child that doesn’t belong to me and ‘put out’ her hair or let her hair keep smoldering hoping someone just ahead, probably a fellow parent of the school who knows her, takes charge? She had however got this far with no-one behind us seeming to have yet noticed.
I was in a dilemma, so it was lucky that the procession stopped and the children bunched up giving me more time to motion to Paul. I decided to put out her hair so tapping her shoulder and smiling I took some of her hair and rubbed it between my hands until it stopped its smoldering. The little girl who really didn’t have any idea of what was happening smiled back. So with disaster averted I motioned to the young boy behind her to keep his distance so his candle didn’t set his classmate on fire again.
Thanks was in the smiles of a few adults around us that caught on to what was happening and then the procession continued on its way to the altar area and the play ran its course. With hymns sung, prayers done and animals led out of the church we exited into the freezing night with a new story to tell Merv, Helen and Ollie.
So while I sit here in Australia expecting the temperature to reach 41° today I remember back to this freezing night and the ‘fiery’ nativity play. Do you have an unusual travel memory? We’d love to know, so say hello in the comments and tell us about it.
Leaving it there for now till next week as I have to dig out some warm clothes and pack a bag as it’s off to France in a few days for us.
Hoping your plans at this busy time of year are going well and you will be able to slow down soon and enjoy some time with family and friends.
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