Like the three official languages in Belgium, holiday traditions vary by region. Here is our overview of the festive season – Belgian style.
Just like all the individual European nations, Belgium has its own unique style of celebrating holidays. Throughout Belgium, you can find a mix of traditional Belgian Christmas celebrations and foods, although the present Christmas celebrations in Belgium are borrowed from American traditions.
Santa(s): Who’s bringing your presents?
There are two Santa Claus figures – St Nicholas and Pere Noel. Depending in which part of Belgium people live, they celebrate Christmas in different ways. Celebrations can be similar to the traditions of Dutch, French or German culture. For example, St. Nicholas visits those who speak the Walloon language (a dialect of French that is spoken in parts of Belgium), while those who speak French are visited by Pere Noel. Read about who’s who at Christmas.
The first visit is on 4 December, when St Nicholas evaluates which children were good and which children were bad. On the evening of 5 December, he returns to reward the good children with gifts of candy and toys.
Children leave out their shoes or baskets beside the door for their gifts. They may also leave back some hay for his horse. Children who were naughty are warned by their parents that they will receive a bunch of wooden sticks.
The Feast of St Nicholas is celebrated on 6 December, St. Nicholas’s birthday. The day begins with a family church service, followed by a meal that includes delicious cakes and puddings.
Belgian Christmas food and celebrations
On Christmas Eve (‘Kerstavond‘ in Flemish and ‘le reveillion de Noel‘ in Walloon), a special Belgian Christmas meal is prepared at home for the family enjoy together. The lavish meal begins with a drink (aperitif) and ‘nibbles’, which are followed by a ‘starter’ course such as seafood and the main course, usually stuffed turkey.
Christmas is celebrated on 25 December. It is a religious occasion and is observed with services in churches and quiet family gatherings. Special cakes are baked and served during the holiday season and are a treat for children and adults.
A traditional dessert is a chocolate Christmas log, made of sponge roll, layered with cream. It is called ‘Kerststronk‘ or ‘la buche de Noel‘. Chocolate butter cream is used to cover the outside of the dessert and it is prepared in a way to resemble a bark-covered log.
Gift-giving in Belgium
Children get gifts under the Christmas tree but this is not the same everywhere. In some families, they buy gifts for each other and put them under the tree. There is no Santa to bring the gifts.
New Year’s in Belgium
Belgians also wait with anticipation for New Year’s Eve. It is also called Sint Sylvester Vooranvond or Saint Sylvester Eve. Parties are hosted to celebrate reveillon or New Year’s Eve. At midnight everyone kisses, exchanges good luck greetings and drinks toasts to absent relatives and friends. The cities, cafes and restaurants are crowded with people who bid farewell to the old year.
New Year’s Day is called Nieuwjaarsdagand and at this time of year children save money to buy decorated paper for writing holiday greetings to parents. The motifs are golden cherubs and angels, coloured roses and ribbon-tied garlands. On New Year’s morning, the children read what they have written to their parents.