Geraldine High School student Nadia van der Sanden has experienced a true winter Christmas in Belgium - and loves it. The AFS exchange student is a regular blogger for the Attitude page and shares her Christmas Day experience.
"Tis the season to be jolly. Deck the halls with bells and holly. It is Christmas time, and for the first time in my life Christmas makes logical sense. It is cold outside, it gets dark early enough for there to be sense in decorating your house with lights. It makes sense to eat and eat and eat because that is what you do in winter time.
"Hot chocolate, hot wine and, disturbingly, hot beer are being sold on every street corner (haven't tried the hot beer yet). Christmas markets, Christmas trees, Christmas bread, thousands upon thousands of little traditions all to do with the idea of a white Christmas.
"Unfortunately for me, Belgium is having an unusually warm Christmas season. It is a nice mild 10 degrees outside and yesterday the thermometers hit 12.
"As I am writing this article on Christmas Eve morning, I must say my dreams of a white Christmas are looking very thin.
"Christmas is family time. 'Tis the season of giving, the season of sharing (the season of getting, the best part of course!) and for foreign exchange students 'tis the season of being sentimental.
"As much as I love Christmas in the winter, it's just not quite the same without your real family, friends and the traditions that you've grown up with. However, I shall not let sentimentality get me down. I love my host family, and as my Dad said, it is pretty special to be able to share Christmas with two families.
"I have been on holiday for around a month now. That is not strictly true but as all my fellow students had exams, and I only had four exams that I didn't even have to study for, I have pretty much been on holiday for a month. I passed three out of the four exams I did do, which is an achievement I can be proud of. I only failed geography, which is understandable - I never did geography in English.
"During this prolonged holiday I have spent a lot of time with other foreign exchange students, spoken way too much English, watched too many films and spent too much money on train tickets to the tourist destinations in Belgium.
"I have also, if I am 100 per cent honest, been bored for the first time. However, with the help of my fellow bored exchange student friends, I made my way to Brugges, the pride and joy of Belgium. Nicknamed the Venice of the North, Brugges is one of the most beautiful villages I have ever been to. Cobblestones, horse and carriages, rivers, canals, old fashioned houses, trees, not to mention the five or six chocolate shops on every street.
"Brugges is beautiful in every season, unlike the rest of Belgium which is slowly turning into a bleak muddy mess. I also spent a weekend in the Ardenne, the forest and mountainous terrain in the south of Belgium. The Ardennes is the Belgians' version of a natural paradise . . . after a rainy morning trudging through a forest of two different plant species (pine trees and moss), I was slightly disappointed.
"However, historically it was interesting. We walked along a path where in World War II the Germans had attempted to destroy a railway line. To summarise the Ardennes, historically interesting yes, naturally, no (although it would be much prettier in the snow or the sunshine). Speaking of sunshine . . . I really do wish people would stop telling me how warm it is in New Zealand.
Alas my dear readers (I have always wanted to write that) it is time for me to go and help make Christmas cookies. Merry Christmas and a happy new year, or in French, joyeux noel et bonne annee!
- The Timaru Herald