There is no question that Christmas in Belgium is definitely a festive occasion.
The actual Christmas gift-giving is usually celebrated on December 5th and 6th because Belgian customs are similar to the Dutch.
A Visit From Sinterklaas
They too believe that “Sinterklaas/St. Niklaas” will visit them on these dates, and so children in Belgium will leave their shoes out in order for St. Nicholas to bring them presents or candy.
However, Belgian children are definitely generous; they will usually draw something for St. Nicholas or leave him a nice biscuit.
They also know that reindeer can get hungry! Thus, they will leave out some carrots for Sinterklass’s animals.
Sometimes they will leave a gift for Zwarte Piet, St. Nicholas’ assistant.
After nightfall has come upon Belgium, Sinterklaas will come upon the roof of the house with his horses or reindeer and his assistant Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) will slide down the chimney and proceed to leave presents in the shoes of all of the good children.
Of course, Zwarte Piet is assisted by Sinterklaas, who has all of the names of his loyal young children in a book.
He has each of their names marked down regarding whether they have been good or bad as well.
Interestingly enough, all of the “bad” children are told that Zarte Piet will have them put in his sack and they will go back with him to Spain!
Traditional Foods Left For Sinterklaas
There are a lot of traditional foods that children and their families will leave out for Sinterklaas.
These would include gingerbread, letter-shaped cookies, gingerbread, and tangerines. Many different songs have been composed in Belgium regarding this festive season.
Belgium also has different regions, and holiday season traditions will often vary according to the region.
It is also important to note that the visit of Sinterklaas is done during an occasion that is separate from Christmas itself; in Belgium, Christmas is considered to be more of an important religious festival.
The Languages in Belgium
Belgium has more than one official language: in Flanders they speak a Belgian version of Dutch called Flemish; the Southern Walloon Region has many French speakers, and the eastern part of Belgium has a small portion of German speakers.
Naturally, there are several different ways to say “Merry Christmas” in these languages.
A Flemish individual would say “Vrolijk Kerstfeest.” A person of French ethnicity would say “Joyeux Noel”, and a German would say “Frohe Weihnachten.”
There are also a small number of individuals in the Walloon region who speak that language. In their dialect, their phrase for Merry Christmas is “djoyeus Noyé.”
On Christmas Eve (which the Flemish call “Kestavond” and a Walloon individual would call “le reveillioin de Noel”) most families will eat a special traditional meal.
There are a number of Belgian people who will also celebrate the Advent portion of Christmas by laying out Advent wreaths or crowns.
These Christmas decorations are normally made from leylandii greenery or fir.
The wreaths often have four candles, and the Belgians will light the candles one at a time in a weekly fashion until Christmas day comes.
The Elementary and Primary schools will normally use these wreaths and accompany them with a nice children’s’ song.
Advent Calendars are popular with the children because they usually will receive some type of chocolate behind their doors on each door!
A lot of Belgians enjoy going to the Christmas markets in the run-up to Christmas day. Families enjoy seeing Santa Claus in the marketplace!
They also enjoy purchasing Christmas presents, food, and decorations.
People in Belgium also enjoy the Epiphany Season, which happens on January 6th.
The children will usually dress up like the three wise men, and they will go from door-to-door getting candy or money.
Traditional Holiday Meal
This will usually include a drink called “apertif” and a snack called “nibbles.” The second course of the meal is usually sea-food followed by a stuffed turkey.
The dessert will be comprised of chocolate shaped in a log constructed in a sponge roll with cream in the center.
It is called “Kerststronk” in Flemish and “la buche de Noel” in Walloon. Chocolate butter-cream will cover the outside of this confection.
These cakes are normally eaten with some coffee, hence the name. The Belgians will also have a unique sweetened bread they call “cougnou” which is often supposed to look like the Baby Jesus!
Gin and Dumplings
Some people will drink a gin concoction called jenever, while others will partake in Gluhwein (hot wine).
Some will accompany this with Smoutebollen (deep-fried and sweet flavored dumplings). Belgians will often top off the evening with a round or two of ice skating.
“Three Wise Men Pie”
One other major tradition involves people making a “Three Wise Men Pie”, which is often decorated with a golden crown on the top.
An ornament is usually hidden in the cake, and whoever finds it can wear the crown for a day!
Christmas at the School
Yes, the schools will have Christmas parties, and the children will often purchase a small gift that could go to anyone.
They will often play a game where the presents will be dispersed.
One of the most popular is a situation where the children will sit in a circle with music being played.
They will pass the chosen present around, and when the music stops, the person who is holding the present will get to keep it!
This is why the present needs to be popular with everyone!
Like most other parts of the world, Belgians will usually have either a real or fake Christmas tree, and they will decorate that tree with a variety of ornamentation, including the traditional lights and garlands and star on the top of the tree as well.
A lot of Belgians will display a nativity scene by the tree. Some, however, will go even further and will put a life-size nativity right in their gardens.
Some villages will also have a “real-life” nativity scene with real animals and choir music playing 24 hours a day!
People will often place a decoration in their houses. One of the most popular presentations would be a depiction of Santa climbing up on their roof!
Christmas Eve is normally a private affair between family and friends. Belgians will usually celebrate with the main meal that is be enjoyed on Christmas Eve.
They might set the tone for the evening by having snacks such as mini-pizzas, crisps, or soup.
The main course will normally be comprised of popular dishes such as seafood or wild game, chicken or turkey.
Interestingly enough, whatever you might choose, your ain side dish will always be potato croquettes!
Sometimes there will be a small gift exchange within the family on Christmas Eve as well. They will put them under the tree and then open them on Christmas Eve.
Belgians will often listen to Christmas music on the radio, and some will go to a Midnight Mass.
Belgian will also have a traditional Christmas breakfast, but this normally is just the same as any traditional Sunday breakfast.
Food items such as freshly baked crusted rolls, cold meats with butter and jam, and danish pastries called “koffiekoeken” (coffee cake) are common.
Belgians enjoy Christmas movies such as Home Alone! and many of the Disney films. It’s a Wonderful Life and even Phantom of the Opera are two classics they enjoy as well.
Learn More With the Help of Video
Main Points About Christmas in Belgium
- Belgium Christmas is a grand celebration focused on bonding and love.
- During the festive season, there are traditional Christmas markets with well-decorated booths, where artisanal treats are sold.
- Belgium has two Christmas figures; Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus.
- On Christmas eve, people host Christmas feast for families and loved ones with lots to eat and drink. The Christmas cake – a sponge chocolate cake covered in buttercream and shaped like a yule log – is an integral part of the Christmas celebration in Belgium.
- The Belgian seafood specialty is usually the starter meal for the feast. The feast is meat-based, accompanied by soups, salads, gravy, and vegetables.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Christmas in Belgium
Belgium has the same tradition with Sinterklaas (St, Nicholas) and Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) as the Netherlands, on the 5th of December when children leave their shoes by the fireplace with something for Sinterklaas and hope for gifts.
Lots of Christmas markets are held the weeks before Christmas and Christmas is mostly spent small and cozy with the closest relatives and the main Christmas meal will be served on Christmas Eve.
Word Cloud for Christmas in Belgium
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Christmas in Belgium. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.