Every year I watch in awe as everyone gets their panties in a bunch about Christmas, the Christmas spirit, present shopping, baking cookies, gift giving etc. Christmas songs, Christmas movies, and TV shows pretty much make me want to vomit (OK, except for Bad Santa, one of the most brilliant Xmas movies EVER) and want to hibernate until the time of year is over. It’s not that I’m the Grinch or anything, I’m just Jewish so none of this stuff really matters to me. The stores prey on this ultimate consumer holiday and try to pawn their items to customers obliged to buy presents for people they may or may not like. I never grew up having Christmas so I never really knew what I was missing. We had Hanukkah, the festival of lights! Hurrah, let’s play dreidal and sing songs and eat chocolate in the shape of gold coins and get one present for eight nights. Woohoo! but of course by day 4 as a kid you start getting things like socks and stuff you need rather than want. As an adult, we just kinda stopped giving gifts altogether, so I never really had to weather the Christmas shopping storm.
So not going home for the holidays wasn’t a big deal as my family may or may not get together and a Jewish Christmas really consists of going to see a movie and then eating Chinese food where invariably we run into every other Jewish family in Dallas. Personally, I quite like this tradition. It’s low-key and mellow, no stress, no braving the Christmas shopping crowds to purchase items that will just go on sale on Dec. 27th. And hell, we just had a big Turkey dinner less than a month ago for Thanksgiving so it’s not like I’m Turkey deprived.
But Stefan’s family does celebrate Christmas so off to Belgium we go. But it too is fairly mellow, since they also celebrate Sinter Klaas which celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children on December 5th. Sinterklaas is the basis of the mythical holiday figure of Santa Claus in the United States. This is the holiday I’ve spoken about that instead of elves, there is Zwarte Pete, the Black Slave that helps out Sinter Klaas and if the kids are bad, then in Zwarte Pete’s rucksak you go, back to Spain! (uh, Pete, I’ve been bad, can I go to Spain where its warm??) So kids here in Netherlands, Belgium make out like bandits with two gift giving holidays!
I’m all set to see what kind of Belgian traditions await me at Christmas dinner. But then, I start having one of those “How the f@%k did I get here?” moments. I’m at a Xmas dinner and everyone speaks Flemish. Not to say that they should speak English just because of me. They shouldn’t. And I’m trying to learn Dutch. (moelijk, difficult). But there I am, it’s his mom, me, him, his sister Kim, her husband Eric, and their two kids Maxim (3) and Matisse (2). The Flemish is flying and I think, how in the world did I end up in Antwerp with a Belgian boyfriend spending Christmas with his Belgian family? Am I actually in the desert somewhere tripping on acid and will soon be waking up and I’m 15 years younger? Someone pinch me!
Seriously though, spending the holidays with his family is lovely. I love all of them. And I am always game for new takes on Christmas dinners. Like Hilary in England, there was no mashing of potatoes, but the very Belgian / Dutch potato krokets made in the deep fryer (which apparently is a very big thing to have in your home here). We had a great big Turkey that was wrapped in bacon (bacon does make everything taste better!), broccoli with cheese curry sauce, mushroom gravy, salad, and half peaches filled with jam. And for starters was this traditional Belgium appetizer of a hollowed out tomato filled with baby shrimp and smothered in cocktail sauce on top of a salad. Delicious! Stefan had a contest about who could eat the most at dinner, but I think he was playing against himself cause no one else seemed to know about the contest. And the winner is??? Stefan! Way to go man!
The next day we went into Antwerp to have a little bit of the Jewish Christmas and go see a movie. But there was also the big Antwerp Christmas Market. Now, we’re talking my language. A market. Filled with crap to eat and drink. I am a sucker for any and all street food so away we go. Antwerp, like most old European cities has many central squares and churches. The Cathedral of Our Lady is one such awe-inspiring church and in front of it was the Christmas market selling many Belgian delicacies such as Belgian wafels, Belgian fries, chocolate truffles – which clearly we had to buy – and my new favorite the Glühwein. This hot mulled wine is also in Amsterdam, but here for 3 euros they fill a huge styrofoam cup with the wine and swirl in Amaretto or Rum. My heroes for cold winter.
Since I didn’t make anything for the Christmas I don’t have any recipes but I found this one online at drinknation for the Glühwein, as seeing this might be my staple drink until we thaw out here, thought it would be a good one to share!
- 6 oz. (dry) Wine, red
- 1 whole Cinnamon Stick
- 2 whole Cloves
- 1 pinch Nutmeg
- 1 tsp. Honey
Heat all ingredients in a saucepan until honey has dissolved. Serve in a pre-warmed coffee mug garnished with pieces of cinnamon stick.