As in the Netherlands, children in Belgium believe that ‘Sinterklaas / St. Niklaas’ (Flamenco) or ‘San Nicolás’ (Wallonia) brings them gifts on December 5 and 6, the eve of St. Nicholas and the day of San Nicolás.
The children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, together something for Sinterklaas like a drawing or cookies; they could also leave a carrot for Sinterklass’s horse and something for Zwarte Piet (Black Peter, Sinterklass’s assistant). Then, at night, Sinterklaas arrives at Zwarte Piet on the roof of his horse. Zwarte Piet goes down the chimney and leaves the gifts in and around the shoes. Sinterklaas has a book in which he keeps all the names of the children and tells them if they have been good or bad. The children are told that if they have been bad, Zwarte Piet will put you in his bag and take you back to Spain. The traditional foods that are left for Sinterklaas include tangerines, gingerbread, chocolate and “mokjes” (cookies made in the form of letters.) There are many songs that children sing about Sinterklaas.The different regions of Belgium have different customs and traditions about San Nicolás
The visit of Sinkerlass is an occasion apart from Christmas. Christmas is a more religious festival.
In Belgium there are three official languages, Dutch (a Belgian version of Dutch is known as Flemish, spoken mainly in the northern part of Belgium called Flanders), French (mainly spoken in the southern Walloon region) and German (spoken by 1% of Belgians in the east of the country).
In Belgium, Dutch / Happy Flamenco / Merry Christmas is’ Vrolijk Kerstfeest ‘, French is’ Joyeux Noël’, in German it is’ Frohe Weihnachten ‘and in the Walloon language (spoken by some people in the Wallonia Region) it is’ djoyeus Noyé ‘ Happy / Merry Christmas in many more languages.
On Christmas Eve (‘Kerstavond’ in Flemish and ‘le réveillion de Noël’ in Walloon), most families eat a special meal. Start with a drink (snack) and ‘bites’, followed by an initiation course like seafood, and then stuffed turkey. The dessert is ‘Kerststronk’ (flamenco) or ‘la bûche de Noël’ (Wallonia), a chocolate Christmas record made of sponge roll with layers of cream. The outside is covered with chocolate butter cream and resembles a trunk covered with bark.
Some people celebrate Advent and have crowns / crowns of Advent made of fir or Leylandii vegetation. The crowns have four candles and one candle is lit every week for Christmas. These are very popular in elementary / primary schools where an Advent song is sung when the candles are lit. Many children also have chocolate paper Advent calendars behind the doors for each day!
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, people also like to go to the Christmas markets. You could see Santa in the market! People are going to buy Christmas presents, decorations and food. You can also drink jenever (gin) or Glühwein (mulled wine) and eat Smoutebollen / oliebollen (sweet fried meatballs) are also very popular. Going ice skating with friends is also very common.
At Christmas parties in schools, it is common to buy a small gift that can be for anyone. A game is played to distribute the gifts. A very popular is to put music and pass the package to all who are sitting in a circle. When the music stops, the one with the package, keeps the present. That is why the present should be something that anyone would like!
Most people will have a Christmas tree (real or fake) decorated with lights, ornaments, garlands and a star on top.
Next to the tree, many people will have a nativity scene. Some people even have a life-size in their gardens! In most of the villages, there are large “real” scenes next to the church with real animals (donkeys, sheep, oxen) and non-stop chorus music. Some people also decorate the outside of their house with lights, reindeer or a Santa Claus that goes up to the roof (that’s very popular).
On Christmas Eve, people usually celebrate with their close family and keep it small and cozy. The main meal is eaten on Christmas Eve. You can start the night with small things like chips, mini-pizzas, etc., or with a snack like soup. For the main course, popular dishes include game or seafood, but turkey or chicken are also popular. But whatever you have, there are always potato croquettes! The ice cream cake is a very popular dessert.
Small family Christmas gifts are also given at Christmas, where they are placed under the tree. They open on Christmas Eve. People also like to listen to Christmas music on the radio. Some people also go to a midnight mass service
The traditional Christmas breakfast is the same as the normal breakfast on Sundays throughout the year. These are freshly baked crispy rolls (bakeries do their best trade on Sundays in the Flanders region) with butter and sausages and / or marmalade, followed by pastries (like Danish pastries) called “koffiekoek (en)” (meaning cake). coffee) as they are usually eaten with a cup of coffee!). In the districts of Wallonia (southern Belgium), you eat a Christmas breakfast with a special sweet bread called ‘cougnou’ or ‘cougnolle’, made in a way that is supposed to be like the baby Jesus.
On Christmas day, people visit friends or distant relatives.
Movies like Home Alone! and Disney movies are always shown on television as the Phantom of the Opera.
New Year’s Eve and the New Year are also great holidays in Belgium. Many families eat another big meal together and sometimes have even more gifts! At midnight, people return to the new year and give them all 3 kisses and wish them the best for next year. Having fireworks is also a very popular way to mark the new year. Some people have parties that last until the next morning!
On New Year’s Day, people often visit friends and family. Children (up to about 12 years of age) also read their “New Year Letters” for their mother / godmother. The letters are written at school and are made with their best handwriting and placed in beautiful envelopes.
On January 6, people celebrate Epiphany and the three wise men. The children dress like the three wise men and go door to door to sing songs and people give them money or candy, like Trick or Treating on Halloween. One of the songs goes:
3 koningen 3 koningen
Geef mij een nieuwe hoed
Mijnen oude is versleten
Mijn moeder mag het niet weten
Mijn Vader heeft it he Geld
Op del gallo geteld!
(3 wise men,
give me a new hat,
my old man is spent,
my mother can not know,
my father has counted the money
In the net!)
There is also the tradition that people make a “Cake of the Magi” or bread called “galette des rois”, which is decorated with a golden paper crown on the top. A ‘fève’ (bean) would be hidden in the cake or in the bread (now it is often a small plastic figure, although some bakers announce that the ‘gold’ has been baked in the cake!). Whoever finds the fève would be the king or queen of the day and wears the crown!