In Belgium, the end-of-year festivities begin on 6 December with St Nicholas Day and continue until the New Year!
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are generally celebrated in family. These moments of sharing are also reflected in the preparation and decoration of the Christmas tree. This is also the opportunity to set up the nativity scene for religious believers. On the night of 24 to 25 December, two events take place: the birth of baby Jesus for Christians and the arrival of Father Christmas. Santa Claus traditionally comes down the chimney and brings presents under the tree to children who have been good all year.
On Christmas Eve, there are typical dishes such as stuffed turkey or capon, or the inevitable Christmas log!
For the record, one of the biggest Christmas log comes from the town of Nivelles in Belgium (2010 record): it took 300 kg of butter, 400 eggs, 200 kg of flour, 4 pastry chefs and around 22 hours of work to make. The result? A log 372 metres long! That’s longer than the Eiffel Tower (which measures 330 metres)!
The origins of Saint Nicholas:
Be careful not to confuse Santa Claus (Father Christmas) and Saint Nicholas! In Belgium, they are two very different people. Sinterklaas (in Dutch) is the celebration of Saint Nicholas in Belgium and the Netherlands on 6 December. Santa Claus is celebrated on 25 December. Santa Claus’ name comes from the English pronunciation of Sinterklaas, but the two characters are quite different!
So what is the legend of Saint Nicholas?
One stormy evening, three children got lost. When they saw a light in a window, they knocked on the door and it was opened by a butcher. The butcher agreed to take them in while the storm passed. But as soon as the door closed, the butcher revealed his true face: he grabbed the children and decided to turn them into pieces of salted bacon before locking them in a barrel. Later, a bishop knocked on the butcher’s door, asking for refuge. The butcher, unable to refuse hospitality to a man of the cloth, welcomed him back and offered him a meal. The bishop accepted and asked for some salted bacon. At these words, the butcher panicked and confessed his crime. Then the bishop held up three fingers and, with this simple gesture, brought the three children back to life.
Since then, the bishop – who is none other than Saint Nicholas – has become the patron saint of children.
And the butcher? Legend has it that he accompanies Saint Nicholas on his rounds to punish children who have been naughty: he has become the bogeyman (Père Fouettard)!
If you want Saint Nicholas to bring you mandarins, speculoos and other treats, you can leave him a snack and a glass of milk or a carrot for his donkey on the night of 5 to 6 December!
The Brussels Christmas Market:
The Brussels Christmas market is so well known as in 2022, it was voted “most beautiful market in Europe and the World” by Best Christmas Market and Big 7 Travel magazines!
The market, called “Plaisirs d’Hiver” (Winter Pleasures), is spread out over various locations in the centre of the Belgian capital. Of course, there is the illuminated Christmas tree on the Grand-Place with a life-size nativity scene, but there are also lots of little chalets in Bourse, Sainte-Catherine, Place De Brouckère and Place de la Monnaie!
This year, the Christmas market is open every day until 31 December, from 12pm to 10pm.
You will be able to taste a range of local culinary specialities: pâté Gaumais (a kind of meat pie), “l’djotte” green pudding (which owes its colour to the green cabbage used in its preparation), cougnous (or “Little Jesus”, a kind of small double-headed brioche), cuberdons (a cone-shaped sweet that crunches around the outside and drips on the inside, traditionally made with raspberries), hot wine, and many other delicacies!
On the Grand-Place, you can also admire a sound and light show from 5pm to 10pm, which takes place every 30 minutes from Friday to Sunday and every hour on the other days of the week. The show, created by Kanien’kehá ka (Mohawk) artist Leilani Shaw, will run until 7 January. It’s sure to amaze young and old alike!
In Brussels, the 11 Aboriginal Nations of Quebec are invited to “Plaisirs d’Hiver”, where you can discover their cultures in the Shaputuan Innu tent.
Christmas movies to practise your French :
Le Père Noël est une ordure (1982, directed by Jean-Marie Poiré)
- Category: Comedy
- Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes
- Adapted from a play, Le Père Noël est une ordure is a French cult comedy about the misadventures of a team of volunteers at a distress call centre on Christmas Eve. And do you know what? It’s available exclusively on Netflix for Christmas 2023!
La Guerre des Tuques (1984, directed by André Mélancon)
- Category: Quebec comedy
- Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Two groups of children play at war and end up getting caught up in the game: an epic snowball fight ensues! This film was also adapted into a 3D animated film in 2015.
La Bûche (1999, directed by Danièle Thompson)
- Category: Comedy
- Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes
- Christmas is a time for family get-togethers. But when the family is completely disunited, Christmas is synonymous with confrontation!
Joyeux Noël (2005, directed by Christian Carion) :
- Category: Drama, War, History
- Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes
- Inspired by a true story, this film is set during the First World War and features three soldiers of opposing nationalities who fraternise during the Christmas truce. Can this Christmas miracle be extended to the other French, Germans and Scots?
Le Père Noël (2014, directed by Alexandre Coffre)
- Category: Comedy, Adventure, Family
- Running time: 1 hour 21 minutes
- On Christmas Eve, six-year-old Antoine wants to meet Father Christmas and go with him on his sleigh. But when Santa falls onto his balcony, Antoine does not realise that he is up against a thief in disguise who is stealing jewellery from upmarket flats…
Docteur ? (2019, directed by Tristan Séguéla)
- Category: Comedy
- Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes
- Serge is on call for SOS Médecins on Christmas Eve in Paris. But his rounds take an unexpected turn when he receives a call from a family friend…
Noël Joyeux (2023, directed by Clément Michel)
- Category: Comedy
- Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes
- Christmas in the Barand household is a sacred occasion! Especially for Vincent, the father, who is delighted to see his whole family together. But when all the children cancel at the last minute, he decides to invite an elderly person from a retirement home to come and celebrate Christmas with him and his wife. Except it is not one but two guests who turn up at their house to make a merry mess!
- Coming soon to the cinema!
To find out about other French-language films, series and shows, click here!
Happy festive season to you all!