Each year Christmas is celebrated in Belgium with a national public holiday on 25 December. However, the Christmas season is already vibrant and exciting from early December with widespread Advent and Saint Nicholas Day celebrations.
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Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, and wreaths are created from fir or other tree leaves with four candles, one for each week up to Christmas. Young children may sing Advent songs in school or play with Advent calendars, counting down to Christmas.
The first day of Advent often signals the opening of a wide array of Christmas markets across the country. Traditionally, the markets are open air with a variety of goods for sale ranging from holiday foods, crafts, and ornaments. Plaisirs d’Hiver is one of the largest annual markets, held in Brussels, with attractions and an impressive light show.
According the tradition, the Flemish Sinterklaas or French Saint Nicholas arrives on his horse on 6 December with a big book listing both naughty and nice children. Sinterklaas’ assistant, Zwarte Piet, distributes candies and toys to the good, but naughty children receive bundles of sticks or.
Christmas Eve is generally observed around the Christmas tree with close family and friends. Although fake trees are becoming more popular, most Belgians choose a real tree and decorate it in the days before Christmas with lights, garlands, and baubles.
A large Christmas Eve meal is common, followed by a Yule log with coffee for dessert. In Walloon districts, a special breakfast of cougnou, a sweet bread in the shape of baby Jesus, is eaten on Christmas Day.