expat lifestyle: Christmas celebrations in Belgium



Due to Belgium's official languages that are not solely defined by one existing language only, Christmas celebrations and traditions vary according to each region in Belgium. Belgium has its own unique way of celebrating Christmas and together with its interpretation regarding certain understanding and beliefs for example about the Santa Clause, the gift-giving traditions, traditions on celebrating Christmas, and obviously the Christmas foods!



Guess who is bringing your Christmas Gifts


St. Nicholas, as well as Pere Noel or Sinterklass, are the two Santa Claus figures that are recognized and celebrated by the people in Belgium. Interestingly, Belgium with its 3 official languages which are Dutch, French, and Deutsch, has different names when it comes to Santa Claus. Pere Noel visits those who speak French, and Sinterklaas/St.Nicholas is the Santa Clause that visits those who speak Flemish (a dialect of Dutch spoken in parts of Belgium).

On December 4th, St. Nicholas & Pere Noel embark on a special mission to evaluate the children and to determine which ones were good and which ones were bad. Rewards in a form of candy and toys are given to the good kids and those who were kind. This happens on December 5th, therefore no wonder why this day is one of the most special and exciting days for all children in Belgium.


In order to receive gifts from St. Nicholas or Pere Noel, a pair of shoes or baskets must be placed next to a door, inside or outside. Presenting some hays for the horses and something for Zwarte Piet/Sooty Piet/Roetpiet (Black Peter/Sooty Peter/Chimney Peter, Sinterklass's assistant) is always a good-hearted gesture to do that never fails to impress them. Tangerines, gingerbread, chocolate, and 'mokjes' (cookies in the shape of letters) are among the traditional foods special for Sinterklaas.


In the middle of the night, Sinterklaas arrives on the roof on his horse, accompanied by Piet. Piet descends the chimney, leaving the gifts in and around the shoes. Sinterklaas keeps a book that he carries on everywhere that holds important notes containing information about the children's names and remarks on their behavior throughout the year. When children have been behaving badly, Piet will put them in his sack and transport them back to Spain!


The Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated on December 6, St. Nicholas' birthday. The day begins with a family church service, followed by a meal complete with delectable cakes and puddings.


Everyone is gathering in the city centre to meet St.Nicholas.


Christmas food and its festivities

On Christmas Eve ('Kerstavond' in Flemish and 'Le Reveillion de Noel' in Walloon), preparing lavish meals for the entire family to enjoy is a must. It normally starts with a drink and light snacks, followed by a starter course and the main course (normally turkey).


On Christmas Eve, most people celebrate with their immediate family in a small and intimate setting, the main course is served during this time. You could begin the evening with small items such as crisps, mini-pizzas, and so on, or with a starter such as soup. Popular main courses is seafood, but turkey or chicken are also popular. But, no matter what, there are always potato croquettes!


Delicious Potato Croquettes!



Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. In Belgium, Christmas is perceived as a religious holiday with church services for those who believe and also as a special moment to have quality time with family and friends. Baking, serving cakes, enjoying, and walking around the Christmas market with loved ones are the type of activities that most people do on Christmas.


Moreover, people also like to go to Christmas Markets in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Santa Claus might be spotted at the market! People go to purchase Christmas gifts, decorations, and food. You can also drink jenever (gin) or Glühwein (hot wine) and eat Smoutebollen/oliebollen (deep fried sweet dumplings). Going ice skating with friends is another popular pastime.



Smoutebollen/oliebollen (deep fried sweet dumplings)




the gift-giving traditions

It is customary at school's Christmas parties to purchase a small gift that can be given to anyone. To distribute the gifts, a game is played. Putting on some music and passing the parcel around everyone sitting in a circle is a popular one. When the music stops, the person holding the parcel gets to keep the gift. That is why the gift should be something that anyone would enjoy receiving!


Christmas presents are also exchanged and placed under the Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve, they are unwrapped. The majority of people will have a Christmas Tree (real or fake!) decorated with lights, baubles, garlands, and a star on top. People enjoy listening to Christmas music on the radio. Some people attend a Midnight Mass service as well.




Exchanging gifts with loved ones on Christmas



Like the regular Sunday breakfast, the tradition is also the same as Christmas breakfast. For Christmas breakfast, normally this consists of freshly baked crusty rolls with butter and cold meats and/or jam, followed by pastries (similar to Danish pastries) called 'koffiekoek(en)' (meaning coffee cake(s) as they are normally eaten with a cup of coffee!). For Christmas breakfast, a special sweet bread called 'cougnou' or 'cougnolle' made in the shape of baby Jesus is eaten in Walloon districts (the south of Belgium).



A special sweet bread called 'cougnou



NEW YEAR IN BELGIUM

In Belgium, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are two important and big holidays. Many families share another large meal and sometimes even more gifts! At midnight, people countdown to the new year by kissing each other three times and wishing them the best for the coming year. Fireworks are another popular way to celebrate the new year. Some people throw parties that last until the following morning!



Some people throw parties that last until the following morning.



People frequently visit friends and family on New Year's Day. Children (up to the age of 12) read their 'New Year's letters' to their Mother/Godmother. The letters are written at school in your best handwriting and placed in lovely envelopes.