Monday, January 23, 2012

The Holidays in Belgium

This is kind of ridiculously late, considering it's almost the end of January, but I guess better (ridiculously) late than never??

December and January in Belgium are quite a busy time. Thanksgiving doesn't exist, so the "holiday season" really starts on December 6th, the day of St. Nicolas (look at the end of my last post for a little explanation). In the morning, I woke up to this at my place at the table :) :

Throughout all of Belgium (and from my understanding, Europe) there are Christmas markets all through December. Some are tiny, with only a small room filled of tables and local goodies, while others are huuge and span for blocks, with a Ferris wheel and everything. Many local companies will get a booth and sell their goods, which range from clothes to soaps to wines to random US license plates. I went to several local markets, as well as the one in Brussels.

Manneken Pis dressed as a gangster...:

And what's a trip to Brussels without a 1 euro waffle??:

Christmas Eve was spent with my host dad's side of the family. We had a huge dinner and opened presents with the extended family then, since we were all together. It was really fun! I hung out with my host sisters and young host cousins for most of the night.
Me with my presents!:


For me, the actual Christmas day was very low-key. We didn't actually open any presents on Christmas day. I went to my host grandparent's house for lunch with my host family, and then we watched Christmas movies for the rest of the day. :)

Our Christmas tree (with presents my parents sent too!):

In my host family, New Year's Eve is a really important family time. We spent the whole day preparing food, and my host grandparent's came over for a huge, 5-or-so course dinner. I made my pecan pie (although I cooked it for too long, ahh well) and helped with appetizers, and hardly made a dent in all the food we had (for seven people!). All the presents for the immediate family were saved for midnight on New Year's Eve. We had a really good night, just talking and laughing and waiting in anticipation for midnight!

Everyone around the table before we ate:

I taught my host family how to play "Spoons" and we spent a good hour or so playing. I got made fun of for the fact that I (unintentionally) scream every time someone takes a spoon, although my host sister mastered the art of taking a spoon without anyone noticing:

And here's a 1000 piece puzzle I got for Christmas and obsessively worked on for most of the vacation:

In the week after New Year's I ate at least 7 "Galettes des Rois" or king's cakes, to celebrate the festival of Epiphany. No one (myself included) seemed to know all that much about the holiday, just that the cake's are sold EVERYWHERE and have a little figurine inside. You choose your slice before the cake is cut, and whoever finds the figurine gets to wear the crown. (I played many maaaany times and didn't win once. :/)

January has gone by super fast! Not much to say about it, except that I've definitely noticed my language ability improve. It's faaaar from perfect, but I've finally reached a point where I understand almost everything the teachers say in class and no longer get lost in conversations.

Next week I have my AFS mid-stay orientation, and then the vacation of Carnaval in a few weeks. I'll try to post again soon!