Belgium’s Christmas spirit
In Belgium, even the greenest Grinch finds it hard not to participate in the Christmas spirit. From the biggest city to the smallest town, the streets of Belgium will be adorned with fairy lights and festive decorations. Here, the holiday season is a time to celebrate with cosy family gatherings and exciting parties.
Looking for tips and pointers on how to celebrate Christmas in Belgium? We’ve got you covered.
Christmas traditions in Belgium
Belgium doesn’t have one but two Christmas figures! In Belgium, Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus are two different people. Saint Nicholas' Day is celebrated on the 6th of December and is primarily a children’s feast. The night before, children will put out carrots for Saint Nicholas’s horse, and in some regions they’ll also leave a glass of beer for his helper Zwarte Piet (Dutch) / Père Fouettard (French). If they had behaved well all year, in the morning they’ll find small toys and sweets in return. A typical biscuit that is baked around Saint Nicholas’ Day is speculoos, which is filled with spices just like gingerbread. And children aren’t the only ones who enjoy this delicious treat as the biscuits pair wonderfully with a nice cup of coffee.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Belgium are traditionally spent with relatives. Families gather to do what Belgians do best: enjoy good food! A traditional Belgian Christmas dinner is usually a three course meal with a main dish of game, roast or seafood. A traditional Christmas dessert is the Yule log (kerststronk in Dutch / Bûche de Noël in French), a sponge cake covered in chocolate buttercream and decorated to resemble a wooden log. Even though the American tradition, where it is Santa Claus who leaves gifts beneath the Christmas tree on the night before Christmas is definitely catching on with Belgian families, the majority of families still hold on to the tradition of leaving presents - to be unwrapped after dinner or later in the evening on Christmas Eve- under the Christmas tree themselves with no reference to Santa Claus. On Christmas Day, Belgians visit the extended family and gifts are given over coffee and cake.
New Year’s Eve is the time to party for Belgians. Most will go out for dinner with friends or family followed by partying until well after midnight. Most venue locations will organise New Year’s parties and major cities will host outdoor concerts or parties on their main town squares, including lots of fireworks and a joyous countdown spectacle. At midnight everyone exchanges greetings for the New Year with at least three kisses on the cheeks. New Year’s Day is traditionally spent with the family or, depending on how hard you had partied, at home relaxing. In Flanders and some parts of Wallonia, children will traditionally read a New Year’s Letter with well wishes, often in the form of a poem, to their grandparents or godparents. Most children will have spent plenty of time decorating their letter with a little help from their parents or a school teacher. In exchange, they receive some money for their piggy bank.
The holiday season in Belgium ends on the 6th of January with the Three Kings' Day (Driekoningen in Dutch / La fête des Rois in French). Children dress up as the three kings and go from house to house singing the song “We Three Kings” and in return receive a few coins or sweets. Bakeries will sell what is known as a King Cake (Koningentaart in Dutch / Galette des Rois in French), a frangipane cake with a paper crown on it. There’s a trinket like a black bean or a toy hidden in the cake and whoever finds the trinket is allowed to wear the paper crown and be king or queen for a day.
Festive markets in Belgium
©Pieter-Jelle De Brue/©Tourist Office Bruges/©Antwerpen Toerisme & Congres
There’s no better place to dive into Belgium’s seasonal delicacies than at the Christmas markets. Every major city in Belgium hosts a Christmas market with decorated food stalls or chalets. Enjoy festively decorated sweets and savoury dishes at the numerous food stalls and cosy up with a mug of hot chocolate or mulled wine. All Christmas markets will have at least one stall where you can try Belgian jenever, a strong liqueur made from the juniper berry that comes in many flavours from fruity to creamy vanilla and yes, even chocolate of course!
As the Christmas markets in Belgium begin well before Christmas, they’re a big favourite among locals for Christmas shopping. You can find many Christmas gifts, from readymade gift baskets to handmade trinkets and typical Belgian souvenirs such as delicate lace from Bruges.
In addition to food and gift stalls, most Christmas markets will also offer all kinds of fun attractions and events such as ice skating rinks, a Christmas stall with live animals, Santa’s village or music concerts. Each market has its own unique appeal but even if you visit just one, you will definitely experience that magical Christmas feeling.
Christmas markets overview (sorted by opening date)
- Winterland Hasselt (14/11/2015 - 03/01/2016)
This cosy winter village offers Flanders’ largest mobile ice skating rink, the House of Santa Claus and a Ferris wheel. For the little ones there is also a small Christmas train. The cosy atmosphere of the café next to the ice skating rink exceeds that of renowned Christmas markets in Germany.
- Winter in Bruges (20/11/2015 - 03/01/2016)
Experience that cosy Christmas feeling at the Christmas market of Bruges. This Christmas market with an ice skating rink is one of the most picturesque and vibrant markets in Belgium. At the same time, you will also get to experience the beautiful historic centre of Bruges.
- Winterwonders Brussels (27/11/2015 - 03/01/2016)
Atmospheric Christmas activities take place at many locations in the city. There is the Christmas market with an ice skating rink, a sledding track, a big wheel around the Fish market and a delicious food plaza around the Bourse/Beurs. Permanent light display with sound and music at the Grand Place.
- Liège, the Christmas city (27/11/2015 - 30/12/2015)
Liegè’s Christmas village is Belgium’s oldest and largest Christmas market. Two hundred festive stalls offer you the best of local produce and unique gifts.
- Christmas market Namur (27/11/2015 - 31/12/2015)
Visit one of the many chalets for authentic handmade gifts or let your inner child loose on the ice skating rink. Every weekend concerts, choirs and folklore groups liven up the streets of Namur.
- Christmas market Ghent (04/12/2015 - 03/01/2016)
Over 40 international stallholders offer typical products from their home country. Warm your hands and heart with mulled wine and enjoy delicious snacks too. A varied music programme will liven up the Christmas market and children can get their faces painted on Wednesdays.
- Christmas market Antwerp (05/12/2015 - 03/01/2016)
One of the biggest Christmas markets in the country! Walk through the city to see the entire market with international stalls. Enjoy the ice skating rink in the city centre.
- Christmas market Mons (06/12/2015 - 04/01/2016)
Let the festive lights of Mons guide you to the beautiful Christmas market where magical events take place featuring goblins, stilt walkers and acrobats.
- Winter season Leuven (10/12/2015 - 31/12/2015)
Stroll through one of the loveliest Christmas markets in the country, enjoy an intimate Christmas concert, sip a sparkling winter beer or get lost in the enchanting streets lit by candlelight and filled with conviviality.
While many of the adventures of Tintin see him travelling across the globe, the stories are always linked to Hergé’s hometown of Brussels. Walking through the city you will discover that many existing places have been used as a setting for Tintin’s adventures. Some examples are the Brussels Park and the Royal Palace featured in the King Ottokar’s Sceptre, the North Station in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the flea market at Place du Jeu de Balle in the Secret of the Unicorn, the Royal Theatre of La Monnaie and the Metropol Hotel in The Seven Crystal Balls. Similarly, the city of Brussels and Belgium have celebrated Tintin and his creator Hergé in several ways:
Several monumental frescoes featuring Tintin and Hergé’s genius are spread throughout the city of Brussels. Discover them at Brussels South Railway station, Brussels-Luxembourg Railway station, Stockel Metro Station (terminus metro line 1) and Rue de l’Étuve;
Tintin statue in Uccle;
The Tintin Building, listed as historical monument, home to the Editions du Lombard publishing house;
Hergé’s Place of Birth, in Etterbeek, 25 rue Cranz;
Hergé’s home, at 17 avenue Delleur, where he lived from 1939 to 1953;
Tintin’s House (before moving to Moulinsart Castle), at 26, rue du Labrador. (In reality, this was at 26, rue Terre-Neuve, where Hergé’s grandmother used to live.)
Although Hergé, the pen name of Georges Remi, is synonymous with a certain young journalist and his little white dog, there is much more to discover about one of the most famous cartoonists in the world. If you want to learn more about Hergé’s work, don’t miss:
The Comic Art Museum in Brussels, with a completely renovated section celebrating the works of Hergé. The Museum is located in an Art Nouveau building designed by Victor Horta.
The Musée Hergé, fully dedicated to Hergé’s genius. The museum - a stunning building designed by Christian De Portzamparc in the student town of Louvain-la-Neuve about 30 minutes away from Brussels – looks like a ship from the outside, while the interior features a lift shaft that evokes the famous Tintin rocket. Sharing space with some Tintin-related gems like a real-life version of the shark submarine, as seen in Red Rackham’s Treasure, and unfinished pages from many of his adventures are early work Hergé did as a typographer and some personal items including his record collection and artworks, all revealing the man behind the ginger-haired master detective.
In cooperation with Moulinsart, Brussels Airlines is also celebrating Hergé and Tintin with a special Airbus A320 aircraft disguised as the famous shark submarine from the Tintin album Red Rackham’s Treasure. Discover here our Rackham aircraft >>
Every year millions of exuberant people gather to celebrate and enjoy the energetic atmosphere at the biggest and best festivals in the world, right here in Belgium. Tomorrowland, Rock Werchter and Pukkelpop - these are just a few of the festivals winning many prestigious awards that have placed Belgium at the top of the list as a music destination.
As a partner of Tomorrowland, Brussels Airlines flies you on party flights to Belgium, the festival’s home. With a Tomorrowland livery on the aircraft, a DJ on board and a magical atmosphere, your festival experience starts right when you check in.
Would you like to know what it’s like to be a part of the Tomorrowland travel experience? Then have a look at this amazing video!
You can fly to the capital of Belgium with Brussels Airlines from 60 different cities in Europe, Africa and the United States. With all music genres being represented, there’s something for every music taste so be sure to check them out! And do bring along your family and friends to make the party complete!
Belgium is Flavours
Some people just eat to live while others, like Belgians, live to enjoy food. Belgium is a gourmand’s paradise - good food, good chefs and a good time are the main ingredients in the Belgian way of life.
We know our classics and we know that Belgium will naturally be associated with beer and chocolate. Our brewers and chocolatiers are some of the best examples of cutting edge craftsmanship. Building further on a rich heritage and traditions, they allow their creativity free reign, always seeking to innovate and surprise you in the process.
But there is so much more to Belgian cuisine! Located at a crossroads in Europe, Belgium is well placed to capture all international trends. Picking the best of each trend, our chefs excel at creating exceptional dishes of high quality and are appreciated internationally. Bear in mind however, that delicious and original meals can be enjoyed at many places, not only at 3-starred restaurants.
The must-try foods and drinks in Belgium:
- Beer: gueuze, trappist, wheat, red ale, golden ale… it’s impossible to name all the varieties of Belgian beers - there are more varieties than days in a year! We are certain though, that you will find one that suits your taste (take your time discovering your favourite from what will seem like a never-ending list). Every beer comes served in its own special glass and each sip you take will be a unique experience. And you know what will enhance your enjoyment of that beer even more? A typical Belgian cheese - it’s the perfect accompaniment!
- Chocolate: the famous Belgian praline was created in 1912 by Jean Neuhaus, founder of the iconic Neuhaus Chocolatier. Only natural products are used for the pralines, and they continue to be made by hand.
- Fries: Belgium invented the French fries! The origin of “Belgian” fries dates back to the 18th century in the Ardennes region, where people used to catch small fish in the River Meuse and fry them. In winter, the river froze over making fishing impossible so people would cut potatoes into fish-shaped pieces and fry those instead.
- Mussels: Belgian mussels come from the North Sea and are available in all the months that have the letter R in their names (from September to April). Moules-frites/mosselen met friet, a popular main dish of mussels and fries, is sometimes considered the national dish of Belgium.
- Waffles: A waffle is not simply a waffle. You have to make the distinction between the Brussels waffle - rectangular in shape with a light golden-brown exterior and deep wells - and the Liege waffle - made with chunks of sugar to form a crunchy coating. Want to be a true Belgian? Then remember that waffles can be a snack or a dessert, but they are never served for breakfast!
- Speculoos: a true Belgian specialty, these spiced crunchy biscuits are traditionally baked for St. Nicholas Day (6 December). Usually served with coffee, it is believed that a speculoos a day can keep the doctor away…
- Cuberdon: this cone-shaped candy is made out of gum arabic and is the local specialty from Ghent. It’s traditionally raspberry-flavoured and purple in colour, but over the last few years, new flavours and colours have become available.
- Brussels sprouts: cultivated in Belgium since the 16th century, these baby cabbages are delicious when roasted, stir-fried or steamed. Try them in stoemp, a typical dish made from pureed potatoes and mashed vegetables. Another typical Belgian vegetable is the endive, often referred to as “Belgian salad”. A typical Belgian dish with endives is witloof in de oven or chicons au gratin. This dish consists of endives wrapped in ham slices, then covered in a creamy béchamel sauce and baked in the oven to perfection. Wholesome and excellent comfort food for those chilly autumn or winter days.
- Meat and game: Belgian cuisine is often described as “tasty and rustic”, and meat is definitely part of it. Ever heard of carbonade flamande/vlaams stoofvlees or Jambon d’Ardenne/Ardeense ham? The first dish is a beef and onion stew made with Belgian beer and served with fries, while the second one is an air-dried, salt-cured, uncooked ham from southern Belgium, similar to Italy’s prosciutto di Parma. The hunting season usually runs from October to end January which is when you can try the pheasant à la Brabançonne/fazant op Brabantse wijze. Not too keen on game? Then have a filet Américain (despite its name, it’s a must-eat in Belgium!) or meat balls in tomato sauce (perfect for children).
©Kris Jacobs / Hopmuseum Poperinge / www.milo-profi.be
- Visit one of over 150 active breweries, learn about Belgian beer culture in one of the interactive visitor centres, take part in one of the beer festivals (many take place in September as part of the Belgian Beer Weekend – Brussels, 04.09.2015 – 06.09.2015), or visit a stunning Trappist abbey like the monasteries of Chimay, Dinant, Maredsous or Rochefort. If you’d rather try all the beers in one place, you’ll want to visit the Delirium Café (Impasse de la Fidélité 4) in Brussels. With close to a record-holding 2,500 beer varieties, this bar is a Valhalla for beer lovers.
- Get some chocolate directly from over 320 chocolatiers or even try making it yourself at a workshop. You can also visit a Chocolate Museum in Bruges and in Brussels. And of course, remember to check out a few of the more famous Belgian chocolate shops like Neuhaus, Godiva, Corné Port Royal, Léonidas, Marcolini, Wittamer… But if you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, you’ll love The Chocolate Line shops in Bruges and Antwerp by Dominique Persoone, Belgium’s most eccentric chocolatier. At his outlets, you’ll find unconventional flavours such as popping candy or lemongrass paired with chocolate. If you really want to try something unique, try the chocolate shooter, a device invented by Persoone to enable customers to ‘sniff’ cocoa powder.
- There are more than 5,000 friteries/frietkoten in Belgium where fries are served in paper cones with many varieties of sauces and dips. If you are really hungry, you can have a mitraillette, a half baguette filled with fries, meat, salad and sauce. Among the more famous friteries/frietkoten are Maison Antoine located in Place Jourdan, Brussels, or De Gouden Saté in St Peter's Square in Ghent.
- Don’t try only moules-frites! There are restaurants that serve mussels prepared in more than 30 ways, as well as a lot of other delicious seafood. Seafood is served everywhere in Belgium, even by street vendors. For an ultimate seafood experience, go to the Belgian coast and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the North Sea. Head to De Mosselbeurs in Ostende (Dwarsstraat 10) for over a dozen types of mussels or simply enjoy the best seafood of the region at Ostend Queen (Westhelling 12).
- Most waffles are served warm by street vendors and dusted with sugar or topped with whipped cream, soft fruits or a chocolate spread. They are so good that they will make your face light up even on a rainy Belgian afternoon!
- In Belgium, there are more than 100 Michelin-starred restaurants. This little country has the highest density of haute cuisine in Europe. Whether you like meat or you prefer fish, whether you are a vegan, a vegetarian or an organic food lover, in Belgium, you will be sure to get good quality food whatever your budget.
Of course it’s not only what’s on the plate or in the glass that counts, but also the venue and the people you share it with. A meal becomes a wonderful all-round experience when we share it with others. Tempted? Then become a real foodie and enjoy a gourmet trip to Belgium with your family and friends!
And on your flight back, bring Belgium's acclaimed cuisine with you thank to our Belgian Star Chefs menus served in Business Class on our long haul flights out of Brussels.