Belgian Christmas

How Belgians celebrate the holidays

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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.

 

Expatica

Updated 2017.

 
 

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Daniela G. posted:

    on 21st December 2011, 13:32:32 - Reply

    WHAT A SHAME ! Who on earth wrote this article ? Where did this person make this "research" ? There is NOTHING about Belgian traditions here. Please, expatica, REMOVE this article because it is a NON SERVICE for the expat community.

    I am an expat myself and after 8 years in Belgium I can tell you that the explanation os St. Nicholas (SinterKlaas in the flemish area, where I live) is a LAUGH. Never heard of a "feast" for that, it is not even a holiday, people actually work and kids go to school in Sinterklaas day...

    Honestly, this is a shame for expatica !!!
  • Marion posted:

    on 21st December 2011, 11:37:18 - Reply

    My sentiments exactly! The author has absolutely no idea at all, even to the point of this being an insult the Belgians. And Walloon is a totally different thing from the French spoken in Brussels and the French speaking parts of Belgium. It is a dialect in itself which some French speakers even have trouble with understanding.! Unreal!!! Really bad performance of the writer, bad research and shame on the editors of Expatica online!!!! There were other articles recently which were equally full of mistakes. So I finally felt compelled to comment! Sorry guys, but this is NOT a helpful site for expats trying to find their ways around Belgium anymore!!! Too bad ....
  • Marijke Verboven posted:

    on 20th December 2011, 11:47:24 - Reply

    This article is full of mistakes. It reads like one big joke.
    To name a few:
    - "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." Almost every word of this sentence is incorrect.
    - "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." Only the date is correct. Never heard of family church service.. cakes and puddings???
    - "Belgians also wait with anticipation for New Year's Eve. It is also called Sint Sylvester Vooranvond or Saint Sylvester Eve." It is 'Oudejaarsavond' in Dutch (language in Flanders).
    - "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. " New Year's Day is called 'Nieuwjaarsdag'. Never heard of childres saving money to buy decorated paper with golden cherubs and angels...

    The writer of this article is clearly not interested at all in our christmas traditions.