BELGIUM

As in The Netherlands, children in Belgium believe that ‘Sinterklaas/St. Niklaas’ (Flemish) or ‘Saint Nicholas’ (Walloon) brings them presents on December 5th and 6th, St. Nicholas’ Eve and St. Nicholas’ Day.

Children put their shoes in front of the fireplace together with something for Sinterklaas like a drawing or biscuits; they might also leave a carrot for Sinterklass’s horse and something for Zwarte Piet. Then in the night, Sinterklaas arrives on the roof on his horse with Zwarte Piet. Zwarte Piet climbs down the chimney and leaves the presents in and around the shoes. Sinterklaas has a book in which he keeps all the names of the children and it tells if they’ve been bad or good. Children are told that if they’ve been bad, Zwarte Piet will put you in his sack and take you back to Spain! Traditional foods that are left for Sinterklaas include tangerines, gingerbread, chocolate and ‘mokjes’ (cookies made in the shapes of letters. There are lots of songs that children sing about Sinterklaas. Different regions of Belgium have different customs and traditions about St. Nicholas.

In Belgium Dutch/Flemish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Vrolijk Kerstfeest’, French it’s ‘Joyeux Noël’, in German it’s ‘Frohe Weihnachten’ and in the Walloon language (spoken by some people in the Walloon Region) it’s ‘djoyeus Noyé’. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.

On Christmas Eve (‘Kerstavond’ in Flemish and ‘le réveillion de Noël’ in Walloon), a special meal is eaten by most families. It starts with a drink (apéritif) and ‘nibbles’, followed by a starter course such as sea-food, and then stuffed turkey. The dessert is ‘Kerststronk’ (Flemish) or ‘la bûche de Noël’ (Walloon) a chocolate Christmas Log made of sponge roll layered with cream. The outside is covered with chocolate butter cream and made to resemble a bark-covered log.

Some people celebrate Advent and have Advent Wreaths/Crowns made from fir or leylandii greenery. The wreaths have four candles and a candle is lit each week counting down to Christmas. These are very popular in Elementary/Primary Schools where an Advent song is sung when the candles are lit. Lots of children also have paper Advent Calendars with chocolate behind the doors for each day!

In the weeks before Christmas, people also like to go to Christmas Markets. You might spot Santa Claus at the market! People go to buy Christmas presents, decorations and food. You can also drink jenever (gin) or Glühwein (hot wine) and eat some Smoutebollen/oliebollen (deep fried sweet dumplings) are also very popular. Going ice skating with friends is also something which is very common.

On Christmas Eve, people normally celebrate with their close family and keep it small and cozy. The main meal is eaten on Christmas Eve. You might start the evening with small things like crisps, mini-pizzas, etc., or have a starter like soup. For the main course popular dishes include game or seafood, but turkey or chicken are also popular. But whatever you have, there’s always some potato croquettes! Ice-cream cake is a very popular dessert.

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