After a prayer, we all lit our candles, passing the flame one by one amongst us until the sanctuary had a warm and flickering radiance about it. We pulled our scarves tighter, and stepped out into the cold December evening. The winter dark was made less dreary by the canopies of Christmas lights illuminating what felt like every corner of the city, and the first carol we sang crowded on the sidewalk outside of St. Mark’s church. Passers by paused with smiles, curtains in windows were parted.
We made our way to piazza Santo Spirito, and took to the steps of the basilica, turning to face the square. Scarves swished, boots stamped and candles dripped onto mittens as our voices rose into the night. Slowly, listeners began to emerge from cafés, restaurants, bars and doorways, as if by magic. Smokers outside came to have a look, arms crossed against the chill. Children pointed and couples joined hands, smiles settling onto their lips. Memories of cocktails on hot and languid September nights in the square were far away, replaced by a reverent and Christmasy glow.
We moved to the centre of the square, surrounding the fountain, and once again sent our voices to the sky. Some had followed us from the basilica to hear more. I turned my eyes high, and saw a curtain part. The face of an old man peered down at us, first with curiosity, then joy as he threw the window open wide to let the music in. A smile brightened his face as he listened to the familiar hymn. After disappearing for a brief moment, he reappeared with his arm around a fragile looking woman, who he guided to the window. They held each other for a carol or two, before closing the window against the cold.
My toes quickly loosing feeling, I shuffled my weight back and forth as I wondered how long that couple had inhabited that space above the square. What had they seen? Had they seen me?