Christmas Lyn

Christmas in Belgium

Updated February 28, 2024
Source: Pixabay

Christmas in Belgium blends German, French, and Dutch traditions but doesn’t lack unique customs.

Belgium at Christmas time is truly magical, transforming into a real-life winter fairytale. If you ever wanted to visit Belgium, Christmas is the perfect season.

Christmas markets held on every city square welcome visitors, historical landmarks sparkle in fairy lights, and the air is filled with cheer.

Belgians usually spend Christmas with family. The Yule Log cake is always in the spotlight, and kids patiently await one of the three Belgian Christmas gift-givers.

And since Christmas is a religious holiday, many Belgians observe the Advent period and visit the church for a Midnight Mass.


The Christmas season in Belgium starts on the first Advent, four weeks before Christmas. The Advent season is dedicated to the preparation for Christ’s arrival.

People light up one candle each Sunday before Christmas, symbolizing hope, love, joy, and peace. Three candles are traditionally lilac and one pink because the liturgical color lilac means penance and pink joy.

Some people also light up a white candle on Christmas Day, representing Christ’s purity. The candles are usually placed in an evergreen wreath decorated with pinecones and berries or a candle holder resembling a log.

While adults mark Sundays before Christmas, kids mark every day by opening a new gift in the Advent calendar. Advent calendars typically have 24 doors hiding treats, toys, or other tiny items, one for each day of the Advent.

Christmas Food in Belgium

Food is a vital element of Christmas celebrations in any country, including Belgium. The menu varies depending on the region – some Belgians prefer French recipes, while others fancy German or Dutch foods.

Roast turkey or goose is the most popular main entrée, usually served with mashed potatoes and assorted veggies. Seafood is always plentiful, including cod fillets, mussels, oysters, trout, eel, and herring.

But while the Belgian Christmas menu is abundant with meat and fish dishes, desserts outweigh everything. Many families bake gingerbread biscuits before Christmas or buy them at Christmas markets.

A Belgian staple food, waffles are beloved by locals and tourists year-round, topped with maple syrup, jam, whipped cream, chocolate, fruit, or condensed milk.

Cougnolle, baked crusty rolls with butter and jam, are a must of the Belgian Christmas Day breakfast. However, the most important Christmas dessert for any Belgian is the Buche Noel or Yule Log.

The Yule Log tradition has Norse pagan origins, stemming from when people used to burn an entire tree trunk throughout the winter solstice festival Yule to ward off evil spirits and welcome the good ones.

But apart from the name, the Yule Log cake has nothing to do with Norse paganism. It’s a chocolate roulette cake decorated to resemble a log, often topped with mistletoe, berries, and sugar powder.

Hot chocolate and mulled wine are the most popular warming drink choices, but many Belgians prefer to drink beer.

Saint Nicholas, Christkindl, or Pere Noel?

Belgium is a multicultural country, and people celebrate Christmas differently depending on the region, observing either French, Dutch, or German traditions. For this reason, people in Belgium have multiple Christmas gift-givers.

French kids in Belgium believe in Pere Noel or Father Christmas, who is generally similar to American Santa but has some distinctions. Pere Noel traditionally wears a red cloak instead of a red suit and doesn’t eat cookies with milk.

Belgians residing in Dutch regions wait for gifts from Sinterklaas. He wears a long red cape and tall hat and arrives in Belgium on a steamboat instead of a sleigh with reindeer. Sinterklaas usually brings along his helper, Black Pete.

Despite the minor distinctions, the roots of French Pere Noel, Dutch Sinterklaas, and American Santa Claus are the same. These characters originated from Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop from Myra known for his good deeds.

On the other hand, Christkindl, another Christmas gift-giver in Belgium, is an entirely different character. Christkindl is an angel-like blonde child dressed in a white robe with golden embellishments and wearing a gold wreath.

Christkindl is a relatively young figure compared to Sinterklaas or Papa Noel – he was introduced in the 17th century by Martin Luther, a German priest, author, and theologian heavily involved in politics during the Protestant Reformation.

Christkindl’s image was inspired by Christ – Luther’s goal was to draw attention to the initial meaning of the holiday. Children never see Christkindl delivering gifts – Belgian parents say he’s shy and will never come again if someone sees him.

After leaving gifts under the Christmas tree, Belgian parents ring a bell to announce that Christkindl has left.

Christmas traditions of different cultures were bound to blend in such a small country, so some children believe that Christkindl and Sinterklaas work together.

Black Pete

Black Pete, Sinterklaas’s helper, is a controversial Christmas character that originated in the Netherlands. And since Belgian culture was heavily influenced by Dutch, Black Pete also visits Belgian children.

The history of Black Pete is twisted. He first appeared in Germanic folklore as an enslaved demonic creature assisting his captor. Later, he was described as Saint Nicholas’s servant.

In a way, Black Pete’s character was similar to Krampus or Perchten, who accompanied Saint Nicholas and punished naughty children while he rewarded the good ones. According to historical records, Black Pete would rattle his chains to scare bad-behaving children.

Interestingly, before the introduction of Black Pete into Dutch Christmas traditions, Sinterklaas was rather strict and used to punish children himself. But after the two began working together, Sinterklaas acquired a gentler and merrier personality.

Black Pete’s image also morphed over time, and nowadays, he doesn’t punish children but assists Santa in distributing candies and gifts.

Now, to the problem with Black Pete – his portrayal typically involves blackface. Actors paint their faces black, lips red, and wear curly wigs.

Black Pete’s image raises a lot of controversy in modern-day Belgium, but the character can still be often seen on the streets at Christmas time.

Christmas Markets

The popularity of Christmas markets in Belgium isn’t surprising, considering the strong influence of German culture on the country. Some of the first Christmas markets took place in Munich and Frankfurt in the 14th century.

Hasselt, a town located at the border with Germany, hosts one of the largest Christmas markets in Belgium, offering an array of festive foods, arts, crafts, and attractions.

Children and their parents can ride the Ferris wheel, play the Flemish twist, skate on the ice rink, and take pictures in the reindeer sleigh. The market even has a replica of Santa’s house from the Finnish village Rovaniemi.

Exchanging small gifts among acquaintances, extended family members, and colleagues is customary in Belgium, and Christmas markets are an excellent place to shop for inexpensive yet holiday-fueled goods.

Another Belgian Christmas market worth visiting is the Liege Christmas Village in the country’s southeast. Visitors can recognize the market from afar by a giant teddy bear made from string lights encased in a bauble.

After passing through an evergreen arch with fairy lights and bows, market visitors will see a Ferris wheel, an ice skating rink, and 200 wooden chalets.

The Christmas market in Ghent has about 150 chalets and a giant Ferris wheel. The market is surrounded by three medieval towers, the Ghent Belfry, the City Theater, and the Gothic Saint Bavo Cathedral, all sparkling in fairy lights.

Bruges, a romantic Belgian town on the west, often called the northern Venice, hosts the annual Winter Glow Christmas Market at the city’s main square, Grote Markt.

Last but not least, the Brussels Winter Wonders Christmas Market takes place near the Grand Palace. Belgium’s largest Christmas tree traditionally sits in front of the market, and historical landmarks around the square are lit up with festive projections.

Midnight Mass

On Christmas Eve, many Belgians attend the Midnight Mass church service commemorating the birth of Christ. The history of Midnight Masses in Europe stems from the fourth century in Italy and has since become integral to Christmas celebrations in the region.

Initially, Christmas church services started at midnight, but nowadays, many Belgian churches begin biblical readings late in the evening to let people get home earlier.

Belgium is famous for its glorious architecture, particularly divine churches and cathedrals. The Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, a notable example of gothic architecture, fits up to 25,000 people for the Christmas Mass.

The gothic Romanesque Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges is significantly smaller but no less beautiful and hosts a Midnight Mass and Christmas Day Mass every year.

Another noteworthy cathedral to visit for a Midnight Mass in Belgium is the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. However, most Belgians either visit their small local churches or watch the Midnight Mass at the Vatican on TV.

Food Left For Santa

Like American kids, Belgian kids leave food for Santa to treat himself after a long trip. Usually, kids leave tangerines, gingerbread cookies, or chocolates, but not milk.

Then, kids put their shows in front of the window or fireplace, hoping that Santa would fill them with gifts.

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