Belgium is situated in north-western Europe and is home to a population of around 10 million. Belgium’s main language is French, but there are also large numbers of Flemish and German speakers in the country. Belgium was also one of the founding countries of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957 along with Luxembourg, the Netherlands, West Germany, Italy and France. Belgium is famous for chocolates, beer and diamond production but it also has a plethora of lesser known traditions still popular in the 21st century.
Gentse Festeen festival
The Gentse Festeen is a 10-day theatre and music festival which takes place in July in Ghent, a small city situated between Antwerp and Brussels. The festival dates back to 1843 and attracts more than a million visitors annually, making it one of the biggest festivals in Europe. The festival hosts free music at eleven different locations across the city and there are a range of weird and wonderful performances to enjoy including buskers, mimes, street painting and staged plays.
The Carnival of Binche takes place annually three days before Ash Wednesday. The event is characterised by an array of musical acts, marching, dancing and street performances. These activities often occur on Sundays in the weeks leading up to the main event on Ash Wednesday. The Carinval of Binche is most famous for the activities on Shrove Tuesday which include the wearing of wooden masks and colourful costumes, a spectacle known as the Gilles. The event has been given the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity Masterpiece by UNESCO.
Christmas and New Year
Christmas in Belgium starts with the Feast of Saint Nicholas on the 6 December, when children receive gifts and chocolates. On Christmas Eve, families indulge in a lavish meal which is rounded off with the serving of a La Buche De Noel, a chocolate sponge roll covered with rich butter cream. New Year’s Eve is known as Saint Sylvester’s Eve in Belgium. As with many Western countries, it is characterised by toasts, kisses and good wishes as midnight approaches. On New Year’s Day, known as Nieuwjaarsdarg, children give readings of good wishes for the years to come to their parents and godparents.
Wedding invitations in Belgium are usually made on two separate sheets of paper, one for the guests of the groom and one for the bride. The two-tiered invitation is intended to symbolise the merging of two families into a single union. A traditional Belgian wedding also involves the bride carrying a handkerchief with her name woven into the material. The handkerchief is then framed after the ceremony and hung on the wall of the family home. It is removed and has new names embroidered onto it when another woman of the same family finds a husband. The handkerchief is then passed down to future generations as a prized family heirloom.
Meals and celebrations
Sunday is a special dining day in Belgium as it usually involves a family get-together and the cooking of a specially prepared dinner. Dinner guests to friends or family homes are expected to bring a selection of chocolates, a set of candles or a bunch of flowers as a gift showing appreciation for the gesture of hospitality. It is also common for adult diners to share an aperitif before eating and wind down with a Belgian liqueur once the meal has concluded.
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