For the fifth consecutive year I have celebrated Christmas far from the madding crowd, the schmalzy songs and programmes and sales hysteria in the cold, and sometimes ice cold, Lourdes in southern France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Winter is the only period of the year in which Lourdes is silent, calm and almost deserted and when only a handful of its myriad hotels and souvenir shops are open.
One finds real peace there with a small group of friends ; prayerful rest and calm serenity.
When one walks to the grotto in season (let's say April to October) - even early in the morning or very late at night - one meets literally thousands upon thousands of noisy, elated people. Now I met between five and ten ... deserted streets in sleepy Lourdes : a heaven on earth.
During none of my previous visists, even at Christmas, I stood all alone at the grotto. This year I made it. A unique experience and sensation.
Lourdes, one of the very few places in Western Europe where one still meets and finds the real spirit of Christmas, but barely any Christmas decoration at all. My kind of place entirely !