Family in Belgium


On the evening of December 6th, St. Nicholas, dressed in his Bishop's robes, rides about on a horse in Belgium. Children set their shoes at the fireplace and leave vegetables in them for the horse. In return, the goodly saint leaves sweets and small gifts in the shoes.

It is said that he rides his white horse on the roofs of the houses and delivers the gifts via the chimney. In some regions he rides a little donkey instead of the horse.

Father Christmas

Father Christmas is someone who is altogether different from St. Nicholas. Children in Belgium were taught to 'believe' in the existance of St. Nicolas, however Father Christmas is basically an "import" from the U.S. --- another example of the merchants hijacking what used to be a religious holiday.

In earlier times, Christmas was a family-celebration with the focus on the religious character of the holiday. Gift giving was deferred until New Year's Day. The presents that the children received came from their parents and not from a Santa Claus figure. International communications and commerce have changed the focus of the holiday into a spending spree. Still, it has its religious overtones and the department stores aren't selling Christmas decorations in August as is done in the U.S.

Christmas Trees

In recent decades, Christmas trees have become popular in the home as well as in town squares and shopping areas. After the family celebration on December 25th, people, both young and old, flock to the frozen canals or rinks set up in the city for an afternoon of skating. Here you'll see grandparents skating alongside little grandchildren who seem to be almost too young to even walk.

Grand Palace - Brussels

Nativity Scenes

The churches in Belgium have beautiful Nativity scenes and they are quite popular in homes also. Some of the hand-carved figures handed down from generation to generation are works of great artistic merit.

Nativity plays are still popular in some areas and they are often performed in 16th century costume; similar to what was worn at the time the tradition began.

Another tradition continues in small villages where three men are chosen to portray the three kings. They move from house to house singing carols and are rewarded with small gifts of food. Since the food is consumed on the spot, the men are often selected for their girth as well as their virtue and musical ability.

1999-2005 by W. C. Egan