Every Christian country celebrates Christmas a little differently. Some people celebrate on 25th December, some earlier. Some exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, some wait until the end of the month. Some have turkey and ham as their main meal, others prefer seafood.
Traditions can vary between continents, countries, and households. Here are some Belgian Christmas Traditions to look forward to if you’re spending this winter in Oudenaarde.
1. Christmas Eve: A lovely feast in Belgium
On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, a special meal is eaten bringing together extended family for a magical celebration. A traditional Belgian Christmas dinner starts with a drink and ‘nibbles’ followed by a three-course meal. The main meal is usually roast stuffed turkey or other game or seafood. For dessert, we usually eat a Yule Log – a sponge roll covered in chocolate buttercream and decorated to look like a log. Whatever your Christmas dinner, you can almost guarantee one of your sides will be potato croquettes.
Some people will enjoy a gin mixture called jenever, while others will enjoy a gluhwein – a spiced hot wine drink usually served at Christmas markets.
You might also find something called a ‘Three Wise Men Pie’ or bread called a ‘galette des raise which is decorated with a gold paper crown. A fève (a small trinket or ‘bean’) is hidden inside and whoever finds it is the King or Queen for the day and wears the crown. The fève might be a small plastic figure or religious symbol but some prefer to use porcelain or even gold!
2. Sinterklaas: Saint Nicholas Day Celebration
Did you know that Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus are two separate people in Belgium, and both have their own feast day? Sinterklaas is the Saint Nicholas Day Celebration in Belgium and the Netherlands that dates back to the third century. The name Santa Claus comes from the English pronunciation of Sinterklaas.
The feast is celebrated annually with the giving of gifts on 6th December in Belgium. Children will leave their shoes out, along with a gift or snack for St. Nicholas to bring them presents or candy. Sometimes they will leave a gift for Zwarte Piet, St. Nicholas’ assistant. Gifts include gingerbread, tangerines, or homemade drawings.
3. Visiting Christmas markets is a must
Christmas markets are very popular in Belgium and a great chance for local traders to showcase their goods. You’ll find a large Christmas market in most main cities and smaller ones in more rural spots, ranging from stalls set up in cafes to community halls.
Traditionally Christmas markets have festive wooden booths where local and independent businesses sell crafts, gifts, food and drinks that you wouldn’t find on the high street. Check your local city information page for Christmas market news this year.
4. Advent is celebrated
As Christmas is a Christian holiday, some people celebrate advent in the run-up to Christmas. Advent runs for four weeks and is symbolized in homes and churches with the display of advent wreaths and the lighting of candles. Traditionally, there are four colored candles on a wreath/crown made from fir greenery. The candles are lit one at a time, each Sunday until Christmas Day. Many children will have advent calendars with treats or chocolate behind each door too.
5. Say “Merry Christmas” in three languages
Belgium has more than one national language. In Flanders they speak a Belgian version of Dutch called Flemish; the Southern Walloon Region has mostly French speakers, and the eastern part of Belgium has a small portion of German speakers. Where you grew up determines the language you learn in school and the language you speak most every day.
Naturally, there are also many ways to say Merry Christmas too. A Flemish person might say “Vrolijk Kerstfeest.” A French-speaking person would wish you a “Joyeux Noel” and a German speaker would say “Frohe Weihnachten”.
Author Bio: Katie McGarr is a daytime writer for Leopold Hotel Oudenaarde, a four-star boutique hotel in the city center of Oudenaarde in the heart of the Flemish Ardennes. Since this free-spirited damsel loves to go on adventures, she’s got a lot to say about travel, dining, cultural enjoyment, and lifestyle.