I had vaguely hoped that after singing out the old year, the children might like to go and meet some Missionaries of Charity, or hear a Serbian or Congolese choir, but they stubbornly insisted on resting, dragon-like, on the piles of sweets they’d amassed. Taking reluctant children to public events is not something we have good experiences with, so we stayed in for the afternoon - again failing to take advantage of any of the edifying encounters laid on in Brussels for the Taizé youth meeting.
New Year’s Eve there was to be a peace vigil in a neighbouring parish till midnight, followed by a “festival of nationalities”, in which the foreign visitors to the two parishes would share some aspect of their culture with one another. As the pilgrims arrived back in the parish they gathered in the primary school, and we went en masse, bearing flaming torches, and singing Laudate omnes gentes part of the way, from our parish church to neighbouring Sint Teresia (not untypically for Belgium, the distance between the two parish churches is less than a mile). It was certainly a sight to lift the spirits on a misty midwinter night, particularly with half a dozen of the pilgrims almost literally juggling flaming torches, mobile phones (for texting New Year’s greetings back home), and assorted paraphernalia for the festival.
The booklet of instructions provided to parish organizers by Taizé had said the festival should be alcohol-free. At one of the preparatory meetings one of the brothers had muttered something about a single glass of champagne for each participant being acceptable. Well, Taizé might be in Burgundy, but we’re in beer-brewing country, so the concession of “a single glass of champagne” was universally taken by the parish organizers to mean “or a glass or two of beer” - especially when a local brewer offered to provide tins of the world-famous cherry beer (or kriek) for free. A local baker offered bread, a local delicatessen wholesaler offered whatever was close to its sell-by date (salami, chicken and tuna spreads, mortadella), and a local Vietnamese restaurant offered spring rolls. There was far more than could be finished (how much can even a 20-year-old eat after midnight?) and on New Year’s morning the copious leftovers went to a homeless shelter in Brussels.
The entertainments laid on by the participants were culturally instructive: a dance I’d seen in an American sitcom, described as “the bunny hop”, is apparently a Romanian folkdance. All the animators put their best foot forward (the Romanians, all joking aside, by far the best) and a good time was had by all. That is to say, I was caught in the melancholy reflection that for the first time since getting married I spent the turn of the year out of my wife's company; and a young Croat looked on with boredom at the whole proceeding; and three drunken young Poles had to be barred from the premises for part of the time; but these are minor exceptions.
After the singing and dancing of Southerners and Slavs, the proceedings were brought to a close with some good old northern pensiveness: in traditional Swedish fashion, the participants from Gotland greeted the New Year with a recitation of Edvard Fredin’s translation of Canto 106 from Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H.