Our Christmas morning began unlike any in our recent years: we were able to sleep in instead of getting up early and packing into the car for an all-day drive east to see family. We had been up late the night before discussing the merits of Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, after watching Casino Royale with all the other heathens who chose the "movie-over-midnight-Mass" option. So, after dragging ourselves out of bed at 10:something, we had our own Christmas morning. We opened our gifts from our family, took some (predictably-silly) pictures, and gleefully observed the carnage of wrapping paper bits that covered every square inch of the floor. In this way it was as much a traditional Christmas morning as we have had in the states, with the possible exception of cats climbing into empty boxes (my house) or ending the day with a intense game of cards (Z's house).
We had been invited to have Christmas lunch at my Australian friend A's house with her husband G, their young daughter E, and his two teenage children A and N visiting from Canberra (pronounced "CAAHN-bra"). We loaded up with our offerings: a bottle of French bordeaux, a bottle of Chimay (blue reserve, natuurlijk), chocolates, and vegetarian meal options. We saw a few other gift-laden Belgians in the streets of Leuven, many who actually greeted us with slightly-upturned lips and miniscule nods of their heads (Z nearly fell over with shock.) We were greeted by young E at the door who, in the fashion of our own older nephew, was already mid-sentence with a list of favorite presents. We shed our coats and followed her upstairs to greet the family.
I am happy to say that, though the Belgians are gracious enough in their hospitality towards new friends, their general reserve and conservative demeanor make it difficult to feel as if you are truly welcome. The Australians, by contrast, are breathtakingly generous, casual, and whole-heartedly genuine in their acceptance of new friends. We were immediately greeted with offerings of drink and hearty conversation about the merits of falvorful Australian wine (a favorite for everyone at the table.) We lingered over dishes of chocolates, cookies, and olives (my new favorite, believe it or not) while waiting for the feast. Both A and G enjoy working in the kitchen, so there was a constant rotation of conversation at the table. Even the 15-year-old N joined in with his own views on cricket, rugby, and the recent Australian swimming champ Ian Thorpe who, apparently, just retired at the age of 24. After a wonderful dinner of roasted vegetables, pasta, and seafood-stuffed shells, we rolled our way into the living room. Young E had fun showing Z and I how her Lite Brite works, and I in turn taught her and her mom a few steps of the Tush Push. At the end of day G pulled out "Fawlty Towers" and treated us to some fine British humour.