12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS: Belgian children find presents in shoes, catch cookies in classrooms

(Photo used by permission of Mehdi Lacombe)
Sophomore Mehdi Lacombe (right) sits under a Christmas wreath with his father, François, and sister, Leyla.

Cultures around the world have special ways of celebrating the Christmas season. In the “12 Days of Christmas” series, sophomores Jack Christian and Allison Zhang will interview students and teachers on their international Christmas experiences. Check back tomorrow to hear about Christmas in China from sophomore Jacqueline Chao.

People born near the end of December almost always complain about their birthday.

Why? Because it’s close to so many holidays – especially Christmas – so they receive fewer total presents than those born in other months.  

But in Belgium, two “Christmases” are celebrated – Saint Nicholas Day on Dec. 6 and the traditional holiday on Dec. 25.

According to sophomore Mehdi Lacombe (who lived in Brussels when he was 5-14 years old), on Dec. 6 Saint Nicholas, (what the Belgians call Santa Claus) leaves small gifts for children who were good.

“You leave out your shoes on the doorstep, and he puts presents in your shoes,” Lacombe said.

Gifts range from chocolate and candy to small toys like marbles, he said.

Larger presents are placed in a bag outside the house.

(Photo used by permission of Mehdi Lacombe)
While wearing a fruit bowl hat, sophomore Mehdi Lacombe sits with his sister, Leyla, and dog, Cookie.

But with the increased influence from America, the Dec. 25 Christmas now is being celebrated as well.

“Traditionally, you would get all presents on Saint Nicholas, but with Christmas becoming so popular, instead of putting the bigger gifts in a bag outside, they give them at Christmas,” Lacombe said.

“Those are wrapped and put under the tree.”

Even as the children get older and realize that it’s not actually Saint Nicholas delivering the goods, some families continue celebrating Saint Nicholas Day.

“Some still choose to do the shoe thing just because it’s funny,” Lacombe said.

Saint Nicholas and his assistant, Zwarte Piet, also visit the classrooms of young students with a bag of ginger cookies on Dec. 6, Lacombe said.

“They just throw all of the cookies around the room, on the ground, everywhere,” he said.

“Obviously most people don’t eat off the ground, so they try to grab (them) in the air, and it gets really intense.

“In first grade when I was there, people were jumping over desks trying to grab some and stealing them from people’s hands and off their desks.

“It got super first-grade violent.”

By Allison Zhang

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