Easter 2018 and 2019
The build-up to the Easter season in Belgium begins with the coming of Lent. For 40 days, meat and other pleasures are abstained until the coming of Easter Sunday. On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, many go to church to pray and confess their sins to a priest.
|2018||2 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
|2019||22 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
Just before Lent, however, there are many carnivals held throughout Belgium, where there is abundance of food, music, parading, and fireworks displays. In February, the Carnival in Binche brings a three-day return to the 1500’s, and the celebrations culminate in oranges being tossed at the watching crowds. Another carnival held during mid-Lent includes white floats, heavy confetti, and pig bladders thrown on the crowds. Finally, the Carnival of the Bears in Andenne involves bears marching among the floats and miniature bear figures being tossed from the town balcony after the parade is finished.
While most Belgians do not regularly attend church services, the majority do attend on Easter Sunday. There, they celebrate the accomplishments of Christ in his death, in bringing his people from darkness to light and from death to life. The sufferings, death, burial, and resurrection is read from the Scriptures and the liturgy, is remembered in song, and is even reenacted in symbolic form. The churches are decked out elaborately with floral arrangements and other decorations, and many dress up in their very best attire as they attend the Easter services.
Some churches will hold special dinners after the services, but others eat Easter dinner at home or at community centers. Typical cuisine items include: ham, lamb, potatoes, asparagus, hard boiled eggs, chocolate eggs, other forms of chocolate, and pancakes. There are also much Easter egg painting and Easter egg hunting that takes place, and families and friends gather together at home and on picnics.
Belgium, like nearby France, is famous for its specialty chocolates, and you will find chocolates shaped like lambs, chicks, and bunnies this time of year along with the high-class fare at chocolatier shops.
Easter Monday is also a public holiday in Belgium, and most use this day to rest and recover from the busy Easter Sunday activities. Many are off work on this day to give them a chance to recoup.
Belgium, like France and French-speaking areas of Switzerland, holds the tradition of church bells being silent from Maundy Thursday till Easter Sunday when they ring out the news of the Resurrection. The bells are thus silent during the “Easter Triduum” (set of three days) that includes Thursday, when Christ was arrested; Friday, when he died on the cross; and Saturday, when he was in the tomb. However, in Flanders, the bells only go silent on Saturday. Children are told that the bells have flown away to Rome and that they will return on Easter Morning with gifts such as Easter eggs, hollow chocolate eggs, and chocolate Easter bunnies.
Five events that you may wish to attend should you visit Belgium during or near the Easter season are:
- An Easter egg hunt, which can be found at almost every locality. Some specific hunts in Brussels to consider attending include: the Uccle’s Egg Hunt at Wolvendael Park, the Forest’s Egg Hunt in Stardust Park, and the egg hunt inside of Belvue Museum. There are many hunts on both Easter Sunday and Monday.
- The Bruges’ Historium Easter event. In this museum, you will see what Easter was like in Belgium during Medieval times. You will see decorations, crafts, plays, art, foods, and more from Easter’s olden days. Museum guides will explain the religious and cultural Easter traditions that existed at that time.
- The Cavalcade of Herve. In April, on Easter Weekend, you may wish to attend a carnival that was moved from the normal pre-Lent period for the sake of gaining more attendees. A procession of colorful horse-carriages is the main attraction, but there are also fireworks, musical performances, sports activities, cultural events, and plenty of Herve’s famous, local cheese to taste. Over 50,000 attend this event annually.
- A visit to local greenhouses. In Brussels, the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken are open from mid-April to early May and offer a look at some early Belgian blooms such as tulips, geraniums, and fuchsias. There are seven greenhouses, a bird colony, an orange grove, the Azalea House with its rotunda, and the Castle of Laeken. Just outside of Brussels, you may also opt to visit Groot Bijgaarden for its early-spring Floralia Festival. There are gigantic greenhouses with 400 kinds of tulips, numerous floral arrangements, an antique chapel full of orchids, and a 13th-Century, moated castle.
- The SpringTij (“spring tide”) Festival in Ostend. In Ostend, by the sea, you can celebrate Easter and spring at the beach and enjoy kids’ events like treasure hunts, water games, drawing, cooking, and architecture workshops. There will also be art expos, a book fair, and chocolate tasting.
Visiting Belgium around Easter time will be memorable for the look it gives into local cultural and religious traditions of the season. There will also be a beautiful, early spring landscape to enjoy. As Belgium is a popular tourist destination during this time of year, however, you will want to make all of your travel arrangements as early as possible.