Traditions and customs of Belgium

What traditions and customs are there in Belgium?

A look at the customs and traditions of Belgium, a country at the political epicenter of Europe.

Food and economy

Food in daily life

Bread and potatoes are the traditional staple foods. Most meals include pork, chicken, or beef, and seafood is popular in the northern part of the country. The national drink is beer, but wine is imported in large quantities.

In northern cities, popular dishes include mussels with fries and waterzooi, a vegetable and meat or fish broth. Throughout the country, French fries are eaten with steaks or raw ground beef. The cooking is traditionally done with butter instead of oil; there is also a high consumption of dairy products.

Immigration has ensured the diversity of “ethnic” restaurants and is gradually changing the eating habits of residents in areas of cultural mix.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Christmas is an occasion for large family meals with grandparents and cousins. There are many other occasions for long meals in public and private celebrations, such as weddings, funerals, and the days dedicated to the saints of the city and the parish. Cakes are associated with religious and civil occasions.

At Christmas, people eat panettone in the shape of the baby Jesus; at Easter, children are told that eggs are thrown into the gardens by the flying church bells; and sugar grains are distributed to those who visit a young mother.


There are not many interactions on the streets, since the residential, work and leisure areas tend to be different. Among young people, especially Francophones, girls rarely shake hands but instead kiss other girls and boys.

Religious beliefs

Catholicism is the main religious faith. The government financially supports the Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as the Jewish and Muslim religions. The Catholic Church controls an important network of schools with 70 percent of students in secondary education and two major universities.

Religious beliefs and practices declined during the 20th century, but about 65 percent of Belgians believe in God. Many people who say they do not believe in God participate in religious rituals for important events such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Minority religions include Muslims, Jews, and Protestants.

Secular celebrations

Many important secular celebrations are linked to the ethnic identity of Flemish and Francophones. Labor Day on May 1 and World War I Armistice Day are national holidays.

The National Day, July 21, commemorates the oath of fidelity to the Constitution of the first king, Leopold I (1790-1865). Mardi Gras is celebrated in various cities.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

Aspiring artists and musicians are trained in free and accessible night schools in most parts of the country. At the post-secondary level, there are many state-supported conservatories and art schools.

An extensive network of art galleries supports avant-garde and traditional artists. Museums in major cities also support artists by buying some of their works and making them known to the public.


Sometimes the existence of a Belgian literature is denied, with only Flemish and Walloon or French and Dutch writers being Belgian citizens. However, authors such as Charles de Coster (1827-1879) and Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916), wrote in French on Flemish themes.

Another important Francophone writer from Flanders was the symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck. The main Flemish writers of the 19th century were Hendrik Conscience and Guido Gezelle. Flemish and Francophone writers contributed to important literary movements such as Symbolism, Surrealism, and Magical Realism.

Important themes are the harshness of life, the questioning of the nature of reality and the search for original ways to get through life. Mistrust of authority was present in one of the oldest Flemish tales, Reynard the Fox, in which the little fox outwits the big animals.

Graphic arts

The golden age of graphic arts lasted from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century and was embodied mainly in painting. The Flemish Primitives school of painting (14th and 15th centuries) made the region the main artistic center in Europe outside of Italy.

Artists such as Jan Van Eyck (1395-1441) and Rogier Van Der Weyden (1400-1464) were interested in spatial composition and psychology and brought realism to the colors and textures of living and material objects. The leading artistic figure of the next century was Pieter Breughel the Elder (1525-1569), with his lively paintings of peasant life.

Pieter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was the most famous painter of his time, receiving commissions from European sovereigns. His main focus was the human figure. Rubens influenced Anthony Van Dyk (1599-1641) and Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678).

Graphic arts declined until the late 19th century, when James Ensor and René Magritte (in the 20th century) revived the avant-garde. The most innovative works of living artists can be seen in the contemporary art museums of Antwerp and Ghent.

Performing arts

The Franco-Flemish style dominated European music in the 15th and 16th centuries, with composers such as Josquin des Prez and Orlando di Lasso. In the 20th century, the most famous Belgian musician was the singer Jacques Brel. Several living classical composers are active. Harmonica Toots Thielemans is the most famous jazz musician. The Blindman Kwartet combines jazz, pop and classical music.

The presence in Brussels between 1959 and 1987 of the French choreographer Maurice Béjart stimulated a new generation of choreographers. The main theater centers are De Singel in Antwerp and the Kaai Teater in Brussels. Several theaters and orchestras are supported by the government.

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