The people of Belgium have different Christmas traditions and customs compared to many other countries largely due to the fact there are two languages spoken here. This means there are two Santa’s too, St Nicholas, for those speaking Waloon, which is similar to Dutch, and Pere Noel for those speaking French.
And, if that’s not enough St Nicholas also visits twice – so Belgian children are particularly lucky. The first visit is on the 4th December when he checks which children have been good and which have been bad. Then on the 6th December the good children receive gifts, mainly toys and sweets, and the bad children receive twigs in their shoes or in a small basket by the door!
Pere Noel on the other hand has an assistant called Pere Fouettard and it’s his responsibility to ascertain which children have been good or not. The good ones receive chocolates and sweets, and again the band ones get sticks.
However, the religious part of Christmas is shared by both, with church services and families getting together for lunch or dinner. Special cakes are made and eaten during Christmas, which is similar to UK tradition, although less so in recent years.
This first part is really the celebration of St Nicholas, whose birthday is the 6th December, as they still celebrate Christmas Day on the 25th December remembering when Jesus Christ was born.
Whilst this maybe the tradition behind a Belgian Christmas, in reality it’s still Christmas Day that they really focus on with children putting presents under Christmas trees and Santa arriving for the children on Christmas Eve – and of course it’s him who puts the presents under the tree!!
Christmas in Belgium is the same as other countries with Christmas trees, decorations and all kinds of special events. For those living in the UK it’s a great time to visit as the towns and cities are transformed with twinkling lights and some great things to buy for your Christmas Day celebrations. Taking the car ferry to France and driving down to Belgium is a great idea. Famous for its beer you can load up the boot and, if there’s space, how about some famous Belgian chocolates?
If you visit Brussels you’ll find they have late openings at Brussels museums on Thursdays from 5pm until 10pm. There are special guided tours and other activities, so worth adding to your itinerary.
Also in Brussels until the 5th January is the Winter Wonders Christmas Market, which takes place at the main square, Grand Place – also the Bourse, Place Sainte Catherine and Marché aux Poissons. Apart from great shopping you’ll find street theatre, light shows, fairgrounds and ice skating. Bring the family on a cheap ferry to France and have a load of Christmas fun while you purchase some bargains.
Other places to explore are Leige, Mons and Durbuy. Durbuy is said to be the smallest city in the world but this Christmas event is big. In Wallonia, the Dutch speaking area, you’ll find craft stalls as you walk around the old alleys and King Baudouin Park. The Christmas festivities take place on Saturdays and Sundays throughout December and into January.
Leige, also in Wallonia, has great gift ideas, great food and drink to taste and boasts the oldest and largest Christmas village in Belgium. If last year’s anything to go by they had some 200 stalls and 4 special themed houses.
So, Belgium is really worth a visit, it’s certainly not far from the car ferry terminal at Calais and the bargains you’ll find will probably cover the cost of a cheap ferry to France at this time of year.