January 9, 2011

Les fêtes

The holidays are finished; 2011 has begun. I'm a little bit later than I should've been with all the pictures-- I've been away from the computer for a lot of break. But here is the story of my Holidays in Belgium.

It's been a new style of holidays for me-- I've experienced ways of celebrating Christmas and New Year's that I've never experienced before.

I'll talk about them here. The descriptions organized in chronological order, along with the pictures.

December 24--During the day

I walked down the snow-covered path, on the way to the train station. The amount of snow here was crazy by Belgium standards-- about the equivalent of having four feet of snow fall in Cortez. The buses stopped running, cars were sliding all over the roads (nobody has four-wheel drive), the commune of Uccle ran out of salt to clear the roads (that's the only way people "clear" the roads here), and my host parents said that they'd never seen so much snow in their lives.

Total, there was 8-10 inches of snow...


Anyway, that's why I took the train into Brussels. Because there were no buses.

I met up with a friend of mine, Jónfríð, another exchange student from the Faroe Islands--a little country located between Britain and Iceland. I shared some delicous American candies with her.

 We headed to the Grand Place, and saw the sapin de noël, covered with snow.  

The town hall under snow, as well. The whole snow business...not seen very often here.

We wandered a little around the marché de noël, with its stalls vending bunches of different things, from cheap santa hats to beautiful jewelry and clothes.

And into a little shop that specialized in speculoos. Often times, speculoos get molded into forms-- here we have père noël.

We continued along through Brussels, found a new street with some cool Medieval buildings

 We wandered towards the only remaining section of the original wall that circulated Brussels during the Middle Ages.

And we made snow angels under it! Gave a more festive atmosphere...

It was a good day in Brussels.

December 24--Evening

After I came back from Brussels, my host family and I went to my host mom's parents' house, to celebrate Christmas.

The parents of my host mom come from an aristocratic background, so this was a very traditional, very polite European gathering. It was a group of my host mom's brothers and sisters, their children, and some of their children's children.  Everybody was dressed beautifully and being very polite-- and also very very nice.

Here in Belgium, the traditional christmas food is interesting: oysters (huitres), foie gras (there's no translation-- it's a special preparation of either goose or duck liver--in this case duck), smoked salmon (saumon fumé), and lobster (homard). 

Below, the first I ate--the foie gras with toast and the oysters.

Some of my host cousins

And...just before trying the oyster. It was interesting-- it wasn't bad, but it did taste rather ocean-like.

My extended host family

At midnight (it went late), they brought out a birthday cake for me-- the 25 is my Birthday. It was so nice of them!

And of course, there were really good chocolates.

In Belgium, Christmas morning is not at all the same as in the United States. Santa Claus doesn't come during the night-- he actually comes when none of the children are looking, and then they all open the presents. Also, there are no stockings--generally presents are given from parents/grandparents to the children, but that's it.  Anyway, that meant that on Christmas morning the whole family slept late.
When I woke up, the table was set with small loafs of bread, called cougnou. They're filled with either raisins, chocolate, or little bits of sugar. The idea is that they're formed in the shape of Baby Jesus, but the resemblance is pretty abstract.

Also, you eat it with a candy Baby Jesus.... It's an interesting tradition.

But it was definitely delicious along with hot chocolate,

Made with real Belgian Chocolate. 

After breakfast, we went to my host dad's brother's house (my "host uncle", if you want to get specific), to celebrate Christmas day. He lives in an apartment in Etterbeek, one of the regions of Brussels, with a view out onto the roofs of the city.

After I met the family, we sat down to the first course--smoked salmon again. It was delicious.

Second was the traditional Christmas day dinner--turkey (dinde). It was all amazing.

The atmosphere was very amiable, as well.

The American candies as a christmas gift went over well with the family. 

Diego with the Nerds...

Quentin with a light-up sucker

Even just looking at the wrappers can definitely be interesting....

And, the Nerds, in general, were a big hit. Everyone loved them

Especially mixed with M&Ms on the floor.

The atmosphere was very relaxed--it was a nice way to spend Christmas. No stress, très cool

And, they brought out another birthday cake. 

As the sun set over the roofs of Brussels, I got a few pictures:

At about this time, we went sledding on a hill near the apartment. I didn't take any pictures-- it was dark by that point, and I spent a lot of the time evading snowballs between sled rides. 

At home, later that night, I opened presents with my family over Skype. The time difference made it great-- it was mid-christmas morning over there, and night here. My bed was somewhat of a mess, with all the wrapping paper and beautiful gifts I recieved. 

It had been a Christmas unlike any I've ever had.

One week later: Evening of December 31-- early morning of January 1

In Belgium, Christmas is the time to spend with the entire family. However, on New Year's Eve, people usually hang out with friends. I had been invited to the house of Raoul (in the photo just below), one of my friends from school, to celebrate the New Year. There were 13 people there-- all friends of mine from school. 

Preparing les apéros (appetizers)

Seated at a nice table, we had a beautiful three-course meal

With a bûche de noël for dessert. 

We listened to music, danced, talked, and I enjoyed the friendly and open atmosphere of the party. 

Things were pretty chill, at some points...

And the energy did pick up at some points too...like when I mentioned square dancing, and I taught them the little bit that I had learned in elementary school. I guess it was good for something....

(Merci à Vanille pour le photo)

And, like any classic European party, the glowsticks did come out for a while.

Here's the picture of the group-- I'm directly in the middle. 

And here's one with a little more energy:

(Et encore un merci à Vanille pour cette photo et la précédente) 

But... we went to bed eventually-- at 5 in the morning. It was a good way to start 2011. 


And, we're nine days into 2011 already. Whoa. It's going to be an interesting year for me-- I'm spending more than half of it in Belgium. I won't get to say that about every year of my life. 


  1. Hey Austin
    I don't know - I think the Buche de Noel you made for class was more amazing!
    Thanks for sharing, my classes are still following your experience!
    Mme. Copeland

  2. Happy New Year Austin!

    I've been keeping up with you regularly. I love it! You are doing a fantastic job of sharing your experiences. Thank you.

    We had a wonderful evening on Christmas with your family and Ysaline in honor of your birthday, and just for fun. Tamales, your mom's really good beans, and way too many really good cookies! Your holiday looks delightful.

    When you facebook with Graham, ask him to get my friends' address, phone, and email in Amsterdam. Sue was my best buddy in high school and Hamadi (Ben for short) is Tunisian. They've been in Holland for probably 30 years and are delightful as well as fantastic tour guides. They're within walking distance of the city's square. Bus and train stations are easy to get to, especially since you are now an expert at public transportation. They'd love to hear from you.

    Miss you, but am so proud of you and so happy for the wonderful experience you're having.

    Lots of love,