It is officially the end of my first semester here in Belgium. I will soon be heading back to celebrate the holidays with my family and friends. In fact, this will probably go up while I’m in transit.
It has been an incredible semester which included a lot of activities some of which I had done before and others which I had never done. Around this time of year, I often think about giving gifts to my family and friends and receiving them. Of spending time with them and eating lots of good food, but also of New Years resolutions. This year is not much different except that I am seeking to give to those I do not necessarily know (a cause I am interested in). I have started thinking about a lot of things, some of which are likely to be cliché but I am not mentioning them so that they are simply on paper and turn void in the new future, they are to help encourage me and push me to be a better person in many aspects of the word.
A lot of people this Christmas do not have a family, will not be sat around a Christmas tree, will not have the money to buy gifts and will not receive any – the list could go on. I am not only talking about those who live in third world countries, but simply those we see on a daily basis sat on the street, even those we believe have it all together. In reality, everyone has their problems even if they are not transparent. I was speaking to my flatmate and she was telling me about how her family of seven was welcoming refugees into their house who had no place to sleep for the night and would otherwise be vulnerable on the cold and dark streets of Belgium. She said something quite profound, she mentioned how we all want to help the refugee crisis but how many of us actually put out a helping hand? How many of us actually go out of our way to change someone’s life? She was absolutely right. Even Jesus makes mention of the fact that love is doing and performing our love out to others and not simply verbs thrown around about good intentions. This was a way her family could put their words into action and help someone out.
Moreover, though I knew this before, I never truly considered the amount of materialism we buy into each year at Christmas until I watched a video of a few girls opening about a dozen gifts (or more each), it has made me really think about the things I have at home that I do not use and the things I ask for, for birthdays and Christmas – the hunger in each of us for the newest bag, shoes, phone etc. It cannot be denied that materialism consumes us, that to some extent, it is important but that we often fall into over-consumption. Perhaps we consider Christmas to be that one time of year where we can turn a blind eye to Matthew 6:19-21 which says ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal’ (we are then encouraged to store our treasures in heaven). It is this consumption that feeds our economy, but keeps the rich, richer and the poor, poorer (a little nugget of my philosophy class there)! I would like to say that I will no longer buy into materialism but that is impossible! Instead, I really want to heighten my awareness of the things I spend my money on and how much of it I spend, the organisations I spend my money on, and what they support. Here’s to positive materialism!
Should I go on about my reflections, I won’t have discussed any of the things I have intended to, so I shall leave my reflections here for now and instead talk about some of the cultural things I’ve got up to this Christmas time here in Belgium.
Cacahuète (if you try and look this up, the internet will tell you ‘nut’).
This is the much loved equivalent of secret santa. This year we each had the task of being someone’s secret santa, the spin, however, was that we were to be that person’s secret santa for the whole week. leaving them cute messages, showering them with chocolates or just generally being super nice to them without letting them know it is us. I had one of my flatmates whose nickname is Rexi.
So what did I do for her, you ask?
On the first day, I gave her a mandarin with a cute little message because she is super into her health and fitness and figured she could start off the week healthily. In contrast, I received a tupperware of M&M’s, a waffle and chocolate sticks (fyi, I now have an infinite reserve of M&M’s ! 😉 )
The second day i gave her a waffle and on it i wished her a wonderful day.
The third day was Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas is a national holiday celebrated in Belgium and other neighbouring countries. Sinterklaas is a patron saint for children who on la veille of 6th December comes to give chocolate, pepernoten and little gifts to (les petits jouets) for children. We celebrated this in the kot and I woke up to so many treats when I opened my door in the morning – I haven’t yet eaten them all!
On Thursday, the fourth day I gave her a banana because I knew she would be going to indoor training and bananas are good at giving slow releasing energy.
On the last day of the week I cut her name out of newspaper titles and stuck it on a piece of paper, found a lovely poem on the internet which was entitled her name and left it at her door.
I figured it was a rather successful week but she later told me at the Christmas dinner that she had guessed it was me because of a mini mistake I made – instead of saying à l’indoor training I said à indoor training. That little mistake on Thursday gave me away!
Needless to say, it was a really magical week and I think my written French is improving!
Once this post goes up, I will have had my second Christmas dinner. One with the Kot and the other with the Protestant Church. At both, I had a splendid time.
With the Kot I had my very first raclette. A raclette is a large cooking utensil on which you can fry meat, vegetables and sizzle cheese. This Belgian specialty can be eaten with potatoes. It’s sort of a Sunday roast but without all the hassle because everyone just makes their own meal which I think is super cool. We also shared gifts and after a mini prank* by my cacahuète on me, I received THE best gift I could ever have gotten – a beanie hat with ‘Belgium’ knitted on it.
*My flatmate gave me a large box of bags within bags, within bags. These bags were of meat industries such as the local Quick or the butchers etc (even though he is aware I do not eat meat). I then unwrap everything and find a kinder surprise egg, inside of which is a note which reads ‘I kidding you’. I laughed so much! It was so well thought out because of an inside joke we have going on.
The Christmas dinner at Church was equally lovely. I played Christmas songs on my flute – my first live performance! It was sprinkled with errors and I was very much embarrassed but musicians all had to start from somewhere! If anything, I am proud of myself for taking the initiative to play at Church – I do hope to be better in the future. And, if it makes me feel better, a church member said she didn’t hear my mistakes!
The last GBU meeting of the semester is over and it ended on a HIGH!
We decided it would be a good idea to go out and approach people, the same way Jesus did. Christmas means a lot of different things to different people and we wanted to get a general consensus of what people believed Christmas to be about. So, we went out with our surveys and asked around – we also offered food (gaufres, of course).
It was clear that almost everyone had had a religious education at some point in their life but they had not necessarily considered why a man would come to earth to die for them. A lot of people believed that Christmas was a holiday to party or for family even Christmas carols. this is not to say that people did not recognise Jesus as a phenomenal man but they were detached to any understanding of him because he just doesn’t seem to be relevant in this day and age. Society has bought into the commercialisation of Christmas so much, we really do not even know why we celebrate Christmas anymore when we are plainly asked the question. This is really what my philosophy course is touching on (have I mentioned I’m a big fan of philosophy?). The paradox that we are all unfortunately trapped in – the fact we don’t really know why we’re doing what we are doing even though we think we do.
While taking down our stand and preparing to head back to base, a young man approached us. I started speaking French to him and asked him if he would like to take part in the survey, but he didn’t speak French. I decided to switch to English but he didn’t speak English either – he spoke Swedish. It must have been less than 10 seconds later when another guy approached us and the two realised they had something in common; they both spoke Swedish. Get this, however, they do not know each other at all. This matrix of events was absolutely amazing to see. I started to ask the questions to the second guy in French, who would translate it in Swedish to the first guy and feedback his response in French, all while simultaneously taking the survey himself. It was phenomenal.
BLOCUS.. dun dun dun! (1)
BLOCUS is here, in Belgium right now, every other sentence a student will say will have the word blocus in it. If you try and search this word up, you won’t be able to find a meaning because it really has no meaning. It means ‘cramming’. The time in which study for upcoming exams. Unlike in the UK where I generally have four weeks holiday, here blocus is….. two weeks!
Fear not, for I have already started revision – two weeks is not enough for me! Not when I have to learn information in another language.
So that’s all from me for now. I’ve just said my ‘see ya soon’s’ to my flatmates who are all leaving one by one. This semester has been everything I could have ever wanted.
I am also partaking in blocus this Christmas time and so I will be taking a hiatus from blogging until my exams are over. I wish you all an amazing Christmas, filled with love joy, compassion and empathy and God willing, a Happy and enriched New Year. Repose bien as they say here 😉
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”
Entrez dans ses portes avec des louanges, Dans ses parvis avec des cantiques! Célébrez-le, bénissez son nom!
Please pray for;
- Safe journeys for all who are traveling home this Christmas
- Please pray for those taking exams in January
- Please pray for wise materialism
- Most importantly please pray for those who do not have a family and will be spending Christmas alone
- Pray we are empathetic and helpful in our actions and words towards others