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Expat Exchange - Christmas in Belgium
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Kortrijk, Belgium


Christmas in Belgium

By Betsy Burlingame

SJB Global
SJB Global

Summary: Learn how people celebrate Christmas and the New Year in Belgium - traditions, food, church, gift exchange and more.

The holiday season in Belgium is a time of enchantment, with its crisp winter air and streets lined with twinkling lights. For expats and digital nomads celebrating their first Christmas and New Year's in this European heartland, the festivities are an inviting mix of tradition and conviviality.

Christmas and New Year's Traditions in Belgium

In Belgium, Christmas is a time for warmth and family. The season is marked by charming Christmas markets, the aroma of fresh waffles, and the glow of festive lights. Belgians typically celebrate Christmas Eve with great enthusiasm, gathering with family for a hearty meal. It's common for people to exchange gifts on this night, following a visit from 'Sinterklaas' or Saint Nicholas earlier in December. New Year's Eve, known as 'Saint Sylvester's Eve,' is celebrated with equal zest, often with fireworks and parties that last into the early hours of the morning.

How Belgians Celebrate

Belgians have a penchant for celebrating the holidays with close friends and family. Christmas Eve is often spent at home with a special dinner that might include sumptuous dishes like roast meats, seafood, and an array of side dishes. Desserts such as 'kerststronk,' a yule log-shaped cake, are a staple. Gifts are exchanged, and the evening is spent in warm company. On Christmas Day, many attend church services, which are held throughout the day, with Midnight Mass being a popular choice for the devout.

New Year's Eve is a more boisterous affair, with people hosting private parties or gathering in town squares to count down to the new year. At midnight, the sky lights up with fireworks, and it's customary to exchange kisses and wish each other 'Gelukkig Nieuwjaar' or 'Bonne Année' for a happy new year. January 1st is often a quieter day, as people recover from the festivities of the night before.

Festive Events and Markets

In the lead-up to the holidays, Belgium's Christmas markets are the heart of the celebration. Towns and cities come alive with vendors selling handcrafted goods, seasonal treats, and warm drinks. The markets are not just for shopping; they're a social hub where friends meet to enjoy the holiday atmosphere. Ice skating rinks and Ferris wheels add to the festive mood, making these markets a must-visit for anyone spending the holidays in Belgium.

The Belgian Santa Claus

While Belgium does have a Santa Claus figure, the primary gift-giver is 'Sinterklaas' or Saint Nicholas, who visits on December 6th. Children put out their shoes the night before, hoping to find them filled with treats and small presents in the morning. This tradition is separate from Christmas, allowing the holiday to focus more on family and the spirit of giving.

Gift-Giving and Traditional Foods

Belgians enjoy giving and receiving gifts during the holiday season. Presents are often thoughtful and personal, ranging from books and chocolates to more elaborate items depending on the relationship. Traditional foods play a significant role in the celebrations, with families preparing dishes like 'stoofvlees' (a type of beef stew) with 'frietjes' (fries), and indulging in chocolates and 'speculaas' (spiced cookies).

Christmas Eve and Day Celebrations

Christmas Eve is typically a family affair, with a focus on dining together and sharing gifts. Many Belgians attend church services on Christmas Eve, with Midnight Mass being a popular choice. Christmas Day is more relaxed, often spent visiting extended family or friends and enjoying leftovers from the previous night's feast.

Decorations and Festive Hotspots

Belgium's towns and cities are adorned with beautiful decorations, creating a magical atmosphere. Brussels, with its Winter Wonders event, is particularly renowned for its festive spirit. The city of Bruges transforms into a Christmas wonderland, with its medieval architecture providing a stunning backdrop for the holiday lights and markets. Ghent and Antwerp also boast impressive displays and activities, making them popular destinations for those looking to immerse themselves in the holiday cheer.

As the holiday season unfolds in Belgium, expats and digital nomads will find themselves wrapped in a celebration that's both heartwarming and joyous. From the twinkling lights of the Christmas markets to the convivial gatherings on New Year's Eve, Belgium offers a unique and memorable experience for those away from home during this special time of year.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


SJB Global
SJB Global

SJB Global
SJB Global

Kortrijk, Belgium

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