We woke up in the monastery bunkhouse around 9:30, then went over to have breakfast in the main building. After a continental breakfast, we trooped to the 11am Christmas Morning mass in the same sweet chapel/church we'd left less than 10 hours earlier.
The service was only an hour, and included many hymns and psalms, including a few Christmas carols I recognized. 'O Come All Ye Faithful" was one of the first; I sang it in English instead of French, but I don't think anyone minded. "Go Tell it on the Mountain" was another; I sang the three or four lines I know in English, but read the rest of the lyrics off of the little half-sheet that had been passed out before the service.
The French family, with their phenomenally good singing voices, had left in the early morning, but the little church was still filled by European ex-pats from all over northern Morocco, as well as the same nuns who had joined us last night.
One of the monks had asked us to sing an American carol after the Eucharist. After a little discussion, we had decided on Silent Night. There was a little confusion when we got the nod - were we supposed to go up to the front or stay put? - but we stood up and sang it. It was warmly received, with big smiles and even a few people joining in, in French and German.
Not long afterwards, we exchanged the "kiss of peace". Some said "Peace be with you", some said "Joyeux Noel", some said "Merry Christmas", but everyone was generous and loving. After embracing nearly everyone in the church, I felt a warm glow that made me not only not miss being with my American family, but genuinely grateful to be exactly where I was, surrounded by my Peace Corps family and this loving group of Christians.
After the service was lunch, which was more European than last night's dinner (taharirt and shlatta with mashed potatoes) had been. It featured olives, pickles, pate, baguettes, and several kinds of wine. This is a French order of monks, after all. :)
I sat between the oldest member of the monastery - the last survivor of the Algerian massacre - and a younger monk. Both were fun to talk to. Sharing my table were a few other volunteers and some French women, including one who had lost her husband recently. She was as grateful as I was to have this beautiful community to spend Christmas with.
After lunch, we walked around the grounds a bit, and then we PCVs left to join other friends. We made a chicken and mashed potato Christmas feast, then did a White Elephant - slash - Bad Santa - slash - Yankee Swap gift exchange. I offered up the coffee press I'd inherited from the previous volunteer in my site, and got a Mexican leather change purse.
Around midnight, I tried to call my family, 8 hours and 10,000 miles away in California, but couldn't get through. Apparently, every other American expat on the planet was also trying to call the US, and the circuits were flooded. But I tried again the next morning, and was able to talk to my folks. (It meant waking them up in the middle of the night, but they swore they didn't mind. :) )
Christmas in Morocco, 2008.
...and there was great rejoicing. :D
4 years ago