Joyeux Noël à tous! Merry Christmas everyone! It’s a beautiful cold, sunny, snowy day here in Kain. Even the wet-blanket humidity has let up for gorgeous, dry, very-reminiscent-of-Alaska weather! Huzzah!
I am rather groggy today, as the Belgian tradition prescribes Midnight as the proper time to open gifts, but I will do my best to piece my thoughts together in coherent English. Yesterday, Christmas Eve (Christmas for Icelanders and Belgians), Julia and I had school. That’s right. School on Christmas. We’d already received our report cards Thursday (I passed all my finals!!! YUS. And Julia did better on her English final than I did. Hem.). Thus, out of 55 5th level Education students, 8 of us showed up to have a little breakfast together and play guessing games for the morning. I wasn’t much help when it came to matching jingles to ads and brands, but man I know my Disney songs! Plus francophones singing Barbie Girl and Eye of the Tiger is always worth some giggles.
In the evening we (Julia, Marianne, Jean-Pierre, and I) loaded up and cookies and presents and crawled along the icy roads to Denis’ to celebrate with their family (this entails Cécile, Pépé, Robert, Carole, Romain, Antoine, Maxime, Martine, and Denis of course. Plus Choupie the Shih Tzu.) They were all extremely warm and welcoming (as usual) and I felt right at home in no time. We chatted and belted out ‘Champs Elysées’ and other songs over a delicious repast. Antoine played Ode to Joy on the recorder and the three boys sang us some special Belgian songs. I ate lobster for the first time, and almost succeeded at breaking it open with a hammer--I was a bit too timid to really beat it right there on the dinner table. Luckily my neighbor, Cécile, didn’t have that issue. Marianne started a fad of wearing some of the table decorations as hair bows and barrettes, and Cécile brought a mini santa hat that made the rounds as well---we were quite the festive bunch! At midnight we opened gifts in accordance with Belgian tradition. Everyone opened one at a time together. The gifts had names written on them, but didn’t have who they were from written on them---little cultural difference. Of course this information was relatively easy to find with the conversations and whatnot. Denis made a special exploit---he managed to bring me a 2 ft tall, less than 1 cm thick, Speculoos Père Noël all the way from Brussels---all in one piece! He is quite handsome, and I am sure he will be quite delicious when I can bring myself to break some of him off to eat. Another very special present was a necklace Antoine made himself, decorated with the Belgian and Alaskan flag. I am also armed with books on Belgian recipes and paintings, plus some French CDs to work on my music literacy. I am so thankful for these generous, welcoming people that make up my Belgian family! After presents came desert, in 6 or 7 forms, including éclairs, chocolate mousse, and buches de Noël. Maxime was so tired he fell asleep on the couch with his chocolate mousse unfinished. We got home around 2 PM and slept like…well, like buches de Noël (Yule logs).
So today we slept in and are taking it easy. While Christmas is a joyous celebration and definitely an important time to experience Belgian culture, I’m kinda relieved to have made it through---Christmas is tough on exchange students. I’ve had some bouts of homesickness in the past couple weeks, but nothing I couldn’t survive. I think the anticipation of Christmas was the hardest part. It’s hard to know that all my friends in college are heading home and we’re not. Plus many people, Belgians and Americans, ask whether I’m going home for the holidays. As AFS says, getting involved and doing something is the best cure. Plus, everyone I’ve talked to always says that social connections, language acquisition, and comfort levels of an exchange really pick up after the Christmas mark. Well, I made it! Less than 7 months left of Belgian awesomeness!