By Ms. Christie Vanover (IMCOM)February 19, 2010
CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - The Belgian city of ChiAfA..vres became all-out mayhem again as hundreds took to the streets for the annual game of Crossage Feb. 17.
With no organization or sense of control, players screamed "chAfA'lette" and smacked the grapefruit-size wooden balls through the village from one target to another. After their powerful hits, players scurried against walls or in doorways to avoid being hit by an opponent's chAfA'lette.
"It was a fun, chaos," said Frank Comiskey, a military spouse. "It was a blast. I had a lot fun."
Although Comiskey lives in a village nearby, he said he saw a completely new side of ChiAfA..vres on Wednesday.
"There was a bunch of stuff I drive past every day that I didn't know was there," he said.
That's precisely why the garrison promotes U.S. participation.
"Anytime that we have the opportunity to be guests in another country, it gives you the opportunity to do something that you wouldn't be able to do if you were in the United States," said Eric Kuenke, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, USAG Benelux. "So you have to get out and experience the food for example, the language, maybe exchange ideas with some of the locals about how they feel on certain things, trying to reach common ground on different things."
Beatrice Caufriez, a member of the Crossage Committee of ChiAfA..vres and an employee of the ChiAfA..vres Tourism Office agreed. "It's very great. It's very interesting to have Americans in ChiAfA..vres," she said. "They must do the efforts to get more integrated, and this day is a very good day for that."
Crossage has been played for more than 1,000 years to mark the end of the fasting period. However, for the first time in a millennium, the ChiAfA..vres Garrison community participated by setting up a target along the course.
Just outside of Caserne Daumerie, volunteers dished out chili heated on a WWII-era military field kitchen, and they shared the American culture with players who stopped by.
"Anytime we're able to interact together, it's always a good thing," said Kuenke.
The history of Crossage is not well documented, but according to Patrick Smet, a technician with the Benelux Provost Marshal's Office, and Francis Cordier, secretary of the Crossage Committee of ChiAfA..vres, the game's roots can be traced back to the 9th century.
"In the medieval period, the noble, bourgeoisies played a game named Choule, and they played in the field," said Smet who is a long-standing member of the Crossage Committee and a resident of the town. "After that, people a little bit poorer started to play in their own field or the street."
Today, respect for the tradition continues. Shopkeepers boarded up their windows and more than 800 people, including a record breaking 121 Americans, came to the city of ChiAfA..vres for the Ash Wednesday celebration.
At the end of the game, right around sunset, players gathered at local restaurants for the traditional Crossage meal of mussels and herring with potatoes and salad.