Like many other European countries, Belgium is noted for the number of festivals and carnivals that take place all year round. From welcoming in the New Year, through to Easter celebrations, the public holidays of Labour Day and Armistice Day and onto the popular Christmas period when two celebrations are conducted in December, Belgium celebrates many important dates in the calendar. Aside from the public holidays, there is something for everyone each calendar year with festivals covering the fields of arts, music, film, history and even beer and wine. History is played out on Independence Day and in the Battle of Waterloo Re-enactment, Festival of Wallonia, Ommegang Festival and the Procession of the Holy Blood, while entertainment is the centrepiece of the Anima Festival, Zinneke Parade, Brussels Summer Festival, the Gentse Feesten and Reiefeest.
Jan 1: New Year's Day
Along with the rest of the world, Belgium ushers in the New Year on January 1, which is a public holiday.
Feb: Carnival de Binche
The famous three-day carnival sees the town of Binche return to the 16th century. It features music parades through the town and the big crescendo sees the Gilles appear on the Grand Place before throwing oranges at the spectators.
Feb: Anima Festival, Brussels
The International Animation Film Festival is for all of the family, with more than 100 different movies screened at the Flagey Centre in Brussels during Anima.
Stavelot is the Mid-lent Carnival and begins on a Sunday with the Blancs Moussis, which translates as “clad in white”, putting up posters on the streets. During the afternoon a procession of floats travel through the streets showing crowds with confetti and flogging them with pig bladders.
March: Carnival of the Bears, Andenne
When a 9-year old boy killed a bear that was terrifying his grandmother the animal became the symbolic animal of the town and the inspiration for the Andennes Carnival! Dozens of bears prance along, parading among the floats and the Giant Martin II. At the end of the parade, to the children's delight, the King and Queen of the Carnival throw hundreds of little bears into the crowd from the balcony of the Town Hall.
April: Cavalcade of Herve
More than 50,000 people line the street of Herve each year to witness the Calvalcade of Herve. The centrepiece of the festival is a procession of colourful horse drawn carriages and it all ends with a fireworks spectacular.
April: Easter Sunday and Monday, Belgium
Easter is celebrated in Belgium with a public holiday on both Easter Sunday and Monday.
May 1: Labour Day
A public holiday in Belgium on May 1 each year.
May: Belgian Pride
The Belgian arm of the now worldwide Pride Festival takes place in Brussels each May. A political statement for many minority sexualities and genders first and a festival second, Belgian Pride is a celebration of street parties, music and entertainment.
May 17: Procession of the Holy Blood, Brussels
The largest religious procession, the Procession of the Holy Blood takes place in Brussels on Ascension Day each year. Up to 100,000 people witness the procession and its biblical stories. It is an event now included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
May: Zinneke Parade
The Zinneke Parade is a biennial festival that takes place in Brussels every other year (on the even years) in May. Zinneke is the nickname for the people of Brussels, who get together to devise the theme of each festival. It is a colourful carnival with music performed without amplification to fit into the “100 per cent human” slogan.
May-June: Brussels Wine Week
Wine producers and lovers come together in Brussels for a week in late May - early June for Brussels wine week. Whether your fancy is red, white or rose, there is something for everyone with several activities organised throughout the week.
June: Battle of Waterloo Re-enactments
Each June, the historic Battle of Waterloo is re-enacted on the field of Waterloo where the original conflict took place in 1815. Visitors from across the world head for the iconic battlefield to witness unforgettable reprisals of the battle.
July: Gentse Feesten, Ghent
A music and theatre festival which lasts for 10 days every July, the Gentse Feesten is said to be one of the biggest city carnival in the world with approximately two million visitors.
July: 10 Days Off, Ghent
A 10-day music festival that sees the best of the electronic music scene descend on Ghent. First held in 1995, the festival is staged indoors in the Vooruit Arts Centre and coincides with the city's festivities, the Gentse Feesten.
July: Ommegang Festival, Brussels
A pageant of colour and grandness, which dates back to 1549, when first held for Emperor Charles V and his honoured guests. Tiered stands are set up in and around the Grand Place to witness a historic festival that includes horses, jousting and flag processions.
July 21: Independence Day
Belgium celebrates Independence Day on July 21 each year, the date the country gained independence from the Netherlands in 1830. The occasion is marked with parades and fireworks across Belgium.
July: Beselare Witch Parade
Inspired by a witches’ trial that that apparently took place in the town, the local people commemorate the events with a parade, featuring more than 1,000 costumed participants, showcasing witches from well-known fairy tales as well as local legendary characters like Sefa Bubbels, Meele Crotte and Leeme Caduul. Music and dancing goes on all night, culminating with the nail-biting recreation of a witch trial. Held every two years, the next one is in on July 28, 2013.
August: Reiefeesten, Brussels
An open-air spectacle held every three years (the next one will be in 2014), Reiefeesten is the “festival of the canals”. More than 600 musicians, dancer and actors provide the entertainment.
August: Brussels Summer Festival
First held in 2002, the Brussels Summer Festival is a music festival held in the city during August. Well over 250 concerts are held during the carnival with music covering an array of sectors. Theatre performances and street entertainers provide more attractions during the festival.
August: Dinant International Bathtub Regatta
The long weekend around August 15th marks the annual International Bathtub Regatta, a wacky event taking place over 6 days. The regatta is made up of a fleet of floating bathtubs with unusual and original decorations. These remarkable vessels sailing down 1 km of the Meuse make for an interesting contest for the 25,000 souls who turn up to watch. A prize fund of over EUR 20,000 keeps it interesting for all!
August: Ath Parade of the Giants
Always held on the fourth weekend of August, this medieval pageant celebrates the wedding of Monsieur and Madame Gouyasse (Goliath). The festival includes a ceremony at Saint Julian's church, after which Goliath fights the shepherd David in front of the town hall. During the Sunday parade, onlookers throw coins at the dancing giants for good luck. Don't leave without buying a traditional "Masteilles" tart.
September: Festival of Wallonia
Although the Festival of Wallonia celebrates the entire region, it actually centres in Namur, which welcomes around 250,000 people during the festival. It was introduced in 1923 to celebrating the revolutionary days of the 1800s and among the attractions are a stilt-walking contest and a moving and funny mass.
November 1: All Saints' Day
A public holiday for the whole of Belgium to celebrate all Christian saints. In Belgium, many people place flowers on the graves of dead relatives on this day.
November 11: Armistice Day
Armistice Day is a public holiday in Belgium and a solemn day when the armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany bringing World War I to an end.
Late November-early January: Christmas Market, Brussels
The popular Christmas Market in Brussels is best known as Winter Wonders and is regarded as one the most original in Europe. Over two kilometres of stalls, attractions and activities await the visitor in the heart of the city at the Grand Place and around the Bourse. It is open seven days a week throughout the period.
December 5: St. Nicholas' Eve
The first of the two celebrated Christmas days in Belgium, St Nicholas’ Eve is known as Sinterklass. It is the day when children receive their presents and is sometimes celebrated on December 6, which is St Nicholas’ Day.
December 25: Christmas, Belgium
All of the Belgium celebrates Christmas, the day being a public holiday.
Photo credit: ines saraiva (photo 1), spencerrasson (photo 2), stoolhog (photo 3), www.ommengang.be (photo 4), www.heksenstoet.be (photo 5, 6), www.ath.be (photo 7).