As it’s always a bummer when you travel somewhere and notice on the day of your arrival that everything’s closed, I thought it would be practical if I compiled a list of holidays in Belgium, which I’ll update each year.
In this list, you’ll find public holidays, school vacations, the National Holiday and more, sometimes with a little explanation of what goes on that day and how I spend it.
Make sure to bookmark this post so you can easily come back to it later.
Holidays in Belgium: what’s the deal?
Belgium has different kinds of holidays. First of all, there are the nationwide public holidays, which are like the bank holidays in the UK. On these days most Belgian businesses and organizations – except for the police stations and the hospitals – are closed. When these holidays are on a Thursday or Tuesday, businesses will often “make the bridge” and give all employees a long weekend off. If these holidays are in a weekend, however, the employer can decide whether to compensate that by giving the employees an extra day off or not.
Stores in Belgium are generally closed on Sunday, but you’ll see that there are some retail stores that do open on Sunday and instead will close for a day during the week (Although there are some exceptions – for stores in touristic places, for example – retail stores in Belgium are obliged to close for one day during the week). These stores are often also open on Public Holidays.
Then there are also the “government holidays”, or the holidays on which only governmental services close. Some of these holidays are nationwide while others are only for one of Belgium’s communities. To learn more about these communities, check out this video.
Thirdly, there are the holidays that are known and celebrated nationwide, but during which businesses and schools stay open, like Saint Nicholas. Then there are the school holidays and of course we also have a National Holiday.
Nationwide public Belgian holidays
January 1 – New Year’s Day
Almost nobody works on New Year’s day. Of course, hospitals are open, the police is there and if your oven catches fire, the fire department will come and put the fire out and a journalist will be there to report on it, but you get the idea. On New Year’s Day, I always sleep in and take it slow until the early evening, when we have a family get-together.
April 16 – Easter Sunday
Easter is always celebrated the Sunday after the first full moon in spring, so it’s always on a different date. Most things are closed, except for the stores that are usually open on Sunday. On Easter Sunday, we always have a get-together at my grandparents’ place. When I was little I was always super excited about this day, as there’s an Easter fair in the town where my grandparents live and so between the pie and dinner, we’d go to the fair.
April 17 – Easter Monday
Easter Monday is, logically, always the day after Easter Sunday and again most things will be closed. I’ll usually just stay home and work.
May 1 – Labor Day
Labor Day is always on May 1. In the States, this holiday is linked to the introduction of the 8-hour workday and the first big May 1 protest for a shorter workday in 1886. The link with the European May 1 isn’t completely clear and undisputed, but in each case, May 1 is in Belgium just as much the holiday linked to better working conditions for employees. The unions will often organize actions on this holiday.
May 25 – Ascension Day
Ascension Day is always 40 days after Easter and it’s celebrated by Christian religion as the day of the Ascension of Jesus. Although Catholicism is the biggest religion in Belgium, only a very small percentage of the population still actively practices it. For most people now, Ascension Day is just another holiday.
June 4 – Whit Sunday/Pentecost Sunday
Pentecost is always celebrated 49 days after Easter. It’s another Christian holiday, celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus. Like Ascension day, it isn’t actively celebrated anymore.
June 5 – Whit Monday – Pentecost Monday
And the same goes for Pentecost Monday.
July 21 – Belgian National Holiday
The Belgian National Holiday is celebrated on July 21 with big festivities in Brussels, the highlight for most people being the military parade. On July 21, 1931, the first Belgian king, Leopold, took his oath as king.
August 15 – Assumption of Mary
And for the Assumption of Mary day.
November 1 – All Saints
All Saints is a different matter, though. On this Christian holiday, people remember saints and martyrs. However, a lot of Belgians use November 1 to celebrate All Souls, which is on November 2 but which isn’t a public holiday in Belgium. They use the day to get together with family and bring flowers to the graves of lost family members and friends.
November 11 – Armistice Day
November 11 is the day on which we celebrate the end of World War I. Several places in Belgium will organize commemorative events that day. The biggest and best known one is in Ypres, where Belgian and foreign government officials gather that day, together with hundreds of others who have some connection to the war. The event is broadcasted on National Television.
December 25 – Christmas Day
Most people are home on Christmas day to spend time with their families. Although family get-togethers and dinner parties happen for two or three weeks around Christmas and New Year’s, Christmas Day is the only official public holiday for everyone, besides New Year’s Day, during that period.
July 11 – Day of the Flemish-speaking Community
On the day of the Flemish Community, on the people working for the Flemish Community get a day off. Sometimes the banks in the Community will also close. There are usually smaller events happening throughout Flanders, but the biggest one is always in Brussels. The last couple of years there have been a few dance battles and concerts. July 11 is the day on which, in 1302, Flemish militias defeated soldiers of the French cavalry near Kortrijk. The battle is called the Battle of the Golden Spurs because of all the spurs the French left behind on the battlefield.
September 27 – Day of the French-Speaking Community
On this day, only people working for the government of the French-Speaking Community get a day off. Sometimes the banks in the Community will also close. Festivities are held in Brussels, the city where on September 27, 1830, Belgian patriots won a fight against the Dutch government troops. When Belgium had just become independent, this was a National Holiday. It’s now a holiday of the French-Speaking Community because the revolt was started by the Walloons and supported by the French.
November 2 – All Souls
All Souls is a Christian holiday, but only public offices are closed that day. Other businesses are open.
November 15 – Day of the German-speaking Community
On this day, only those working for the German-speaking Community get a day off. Sometimes the banks in the Community will also close. Unlike the days of the other two communities, November 15 has no real historical significance for the German-speaking Community. It was chosen as a sign of connection with the Monarchy because it’s the same day as Dynasty Day. The last few years, there have been discussions about changing the date, but so far that hasn’t happened yet.
November 15 – Dynasty Day or King’s Feast
Dynasty Day often changed dates in the past, until they settles for November 15, both the holiday of the Holy Leopold and the Holy Albert. Most public offices close on this day, everybody else works.
December 26 – 2nd day of Christmas
December 26 is only an official holiday for government officials.
Holidays in Belgium on which we work
January 6 – Three Kings Day/Epiphany
Three Kings Day celebrates the day on which, according to Christianity, three wise men followed a star until they found Jesus. In Belgium, bakeries sell a special cake that day in which a bean or something else small is hidden. The cake is sold together with a crown and so whoever gets the piece of cake with the bean, gets the crown and is king for a day. I love Three Kings Day cake.
March 19 OR June 11 – Father’s Day
In Most of Belgium, Father’s Day is celebrated the second Sunday of June, while in the region of Antwerp it’s celebrated on in March.
May 14 OR August 15 – Mother’s Day
In most of Belgium, Mother’s Day is always the second Sunday of May. In the region of Antwerp, however, it’s on August 15.
December 6 – Saint Nicholas Day
Belgian kids don’t only get presents for Christmas, a lot of them get something for Saint Nicholas Day as well! I’ve written about this holiday before.
February 14 – Valentine Day
It’s not as big and commercial yet as it is in the States, and no real drama if you don’t have a date this day, but a lot of Belgians will go out with their partners or treat them to a gift on Valentine’s Day.
April 21 – Administrative Professionals Day
A day on which bosses do a little something for their assistants. If their good bosses, that is 😉
November 11 – Saint Maarten
The origins of the Saint Maarten celebrations in Belgium aren’t that clear. In some cities, they celebrate Saint Maarten, but not Saint Nicholas, while in others they’ll celebrate both and in yet others only Saint Nicholas. I’ve only ever celebrated Saint Nicholas.
Belgian school holidays in 2017
Christmas break: December 26, 2016 – January 8, 2017
Carnival holiday: February 27 – March 5
Easter break: April 3 – April 17
Summer break: July 1 – August 31
Fall break: October 30 – November 5
Christmas break: December 25, 2017 – January 7, 2018
Daylight savings time switches in 2017
March 25-26: we move the clock an hour forward for Daylight Savings Time. This always happens the last full weekend of March.
October 28-29: we move the clock an hour back to end Daylight Savings Time. This always happens the last full weekend of October (for example, in 2015 Oct 31 – Nov 1 fell on a weekend, so we switched the time a weekend earlier)
Sun and moon stuff in 2017
March 20: March equinox
June 20: June Solstice
September 22: September Equinox
December 21: December Solstice
There you go! I hope you find this list useful. Feel free to share it around if you do 🙂