A Very Belgian Christmas

Nicole B. is currently a junior at SYA Italy and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.

On Christmas Eve, my host family and I left the house; rushed, dressed up and hungry. We were late to our Christmas Eve dinner at their friend Jacqueline’s house, who lives in Montefiascone, a nearby town. During the hour car ride there, I looked out the window, my drowsy eyes trying to fight the fatigue brought on by the Italian ballads playing on the radio and the warmth of the car heater. An hour after driving on quiet empty roads, we turned and parked at Jacqueline's driveway. The harsh breeze brushed against my exposed legs and smacked my face. It was December for sure.

We entered her house, greeting Jacqueline and her friends with kisses on the cheek and hugs. We put away the gifts we brought and sat in the living room together, talking about the U.S. and how insanely difficult Italian is. We ate crackers and cheese and salami and nuts as we talked and sat around the fireplace. Soon, it was time to take our seat at the dinner table. FINALLY. A burgundy tablecloth covered the table, complimenting the silver plates and forks and the centerpiece of fake wood and berries. Our “antipasto” was a curious salad with unknown berries and vegetables. After we finished that meal, our Belgian guests, who were also cooking for us, stood up and started cooking the second meal. “That’s how the Belgians do it,” my host dad said. As we waited for the meat (I learned as I was eating it was duck) to finish cooking, we talked about the funny gifts my host parents’ clients have given them (they once got a live sheep) and the best wines around the world (they were fascinated by wine from Oregon). We spoke in French, English and Italian, enough translations and confused looks to share around the table all night. I even translated the label of the Spanish wine for my host dad, who sought to understood what it meant.

By the time we finished the ice cream “cake”, it was midnight. It was finally time to open our gifts. We sat in the living room, in a circle and we passed each other our gifts, and as we rejoiced at what we got, we hugged, kissed cheeks and said our thank you’s in the languages we could speak. Even the guests tonight gave me a gift! Belgian chocolate! I got more gifts than I thought I would get, even getting a beautiful knit sweater from my host brothers. I couldn't express my shock and joy that my host family would give me such sweet gifts. I grinned at the smiles of my host parents and brothers when they unwrapped my gifts. I was so relieved that they liked them. My heart was in high spirits, particularly rare for me at 1 in the morning. This feeling didn’t last long though, for once I was in bed, it wasn’t even a minute before I closed my eyes and fell asleep.

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