We all know that the holiday season is most often enjoyed in the company of one’s family. I associate the holiday festivities with grandma’s cooking, the parents with wine glasses in hand and the noise of the younger cousins in the early morning.

Many say it is this festive time of year that is one of the hardest during an exchange experience abroad. The holidays spent abroad, away from your parents and all that you know is difficult, but I found that it doesn’t matter whether you are cuddled on the couch with your biological cousin, or you are dancing with your cousin from your life abroad. When you are under the roof of a warm, welcoming house, between smiling faces and even trapped in the embraces of open arms, it doesn’t matter to whom the house belongs, or whether those arms pertain to your birth grandma or host family grandma because all the same, you feel the love.

Warm kisses, open arms, and silly moments I will remember from my holiday abroad:

  • Just us cousins struggling and accomplishing ordering… and paying, for the sandwiches for the entire family.
  • The Grandma, who hollers in her own silly and energetic character when I take second helpings, complementing her tartiflet, or when I try to help her do the dishes. The Grandma who is rosy cheeked Christmas eve, content with the celebration and the champagne.
  • The Grandpa, who shows me the secret of a slice of onion with your cheese, how it intensifies the flavors. The Grandpa who spends the entirety of a song dancing with me Christmas eve.
  • The brother-in-law whom I accompany outside while he smokes a cigarette, just so I can release the gas that has built up thanks to the rich Christmas dinner; then laughing over the secret between us two, because apparently I wasn’t the only one who built up air in my digestive system.
  • The aunt who caused me to lose a bra strap after challenging me to a dance contest at the height of the Christmas festivities, and who later teaches me all about how to eat cheese and their different interesting facts.
  • The younger cousin who isn’t shy to tuck his feet under or over me, when there isn’t enough room for all of us on the couch.
  • The older cousin who follows along as I try to teach what little I know of the swing dance during a song that isn’t even swing.
  • The uncle who I serve yet another glass of champagne to while he plays the DJ, and who was always full of interesting questions.
  • The Mom ,who was always encouraging me to try the new foods and not be shy about taking seconds, taking time to describe each entre, and convincing me I won’t gain too much weight.
  • And finally the Sister with whom I can snuggle up with at the end of each day’s adventure with a nice Disney animation despite the fact we are both close to 18 years old.

This was my Christmas. This is the family with whom I had the blessing of sharing my holiday season.

Throughout the week of holiday celebrations I  would meet new and incredibly kind family friends and/or family members and sharing conversation over grand French meals overflowing with enchanting flavors. I didn’t have a single chance to be down. Although I might have eaten a bit too much each day, I was delighted with the delicious tastes of high quality compté, camanberge and goat cheese, homemade typical French dishes, and the new flavors of frog legs or froi gràs appitizers.

I completely enjoyed my opportunities to participate in this classic French culture of sharing stories and discussion over a 4 course, 3 hour meal. Although I have been living “un peu près” the life of a French teenager for the past few months, teens all over the world are not too much different. It was during the week of Holiday “fetes” that I was exposed to the typical French culture in full bloom. But even with all the excitement and exposure to a completely new way of celebrating the holidays, the best part that made this particular Christmas of 2012 so memorable and joyous was experiencing the love from this family. I felt their affection, not as a family of correspondents for the short five months of my stay as an exchange student, but like they are the family who has always and will always take me in as their own. I have been assured that I am welcomed back with big kisses and open arms and am overjoyed with the idea of passing equally enjoyable moments with this family in the future.

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