The winter of our content: Never-ending activities for your holiday season

Summary

Not sure which market or concert to choose this month? Check out our handy guide for the highlights of Flanders and Brussels in December

Deck the halls

While it may have seemed a tad early, Winter Wonders opened in Brussels last Friday, ringing in the official start of the holiday season. Pretty much every day from here until early January will see special events, light festivals and Christmas markets all across Brussels and Flanders. We’ve dug up a few highlights to make it easy to fill your calendar for the rest of the year (and beyond).

Winter Wonders
It’s not just the earliest, it’s the biggest. Belgium’s granddaddy of all Christmas markets is open now, filling downtown Brussels, from Muntplein to Grote Markt, across the Beurs and further to Sint-Katelijne and the Vismarkt, with hundreds of chalets and hundreds of thousands of twinkly lights. But oh, it’s so much more. A light show plays off the side of the historical city hall every half hour or so, in the shadow of the 22-metre-high Christmas Tree. Finland takes over Ortsstraat as this year’s guest country, with artisanal products, fire baskets, a “house of silence” and a tent from Lapland reminding you why it is home to the world’s happiest people. A high-tech dome on Anspachlaan provides 360° audio-visual performances, films, concerts and family activities. And, sure, there’s an ice skating rink (next to the imposing opera house) and a Ferris wheel (in view of Sint-Katelijne church). Daily until 6 January, across Brussels

Sandy Clause
Nearly every town in Flanders has a Christmas market, with the capitals – Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, Hasselt and Leuven – being stand-outs. And once they open, they’re open – Christmas Day included. But don’t hesitate to head to the far west, where Ostend has a new Christmas market this year. There are more than 50 chalets selling handicraft and traditional food, winter bars and ice skating in the picturesque Leopoldpark. Santa’s House, meanwhile, is a picture-perfect background for your holiday snaps (Santa will be there in the flesh from 12-14 December). And the Light Tunnel over Adolf Buylstraat offers a spectacular show four times a day. Daily until 6 January

Elf Escape Room
Beauvoorde castle in Wulveringem, West Flanders, is worth visiting anytime: A multilingual audio guide takes you through the historical abode, built in the 17th-century and rebuilt 200 years later. But during the school holiday, there’s also an Elf Escape Room. Solve the puzzle to free Santa’s elves. Christmas is saved! 22 December to 6 January

Sugar plums


Christmas isn’t Christmas until you’ve seen The Nutcracker, my mother used to say. If you agree, there are several options to see the beloved ballet this month, including in Hasselt, Antwerp and Brussels. If you’ve never seen it yourself, be assured that it’s solid entertainment for kids eight and up as well.

Winter Wonder Castle
Bonfires, lavishly decorated trees and ambient lighting make Ghent’s Gravensteen a bit less foreboding than usual. It’s all a backdrop for a Viking adventure in which you – and your kids, ostensibly – play important roles. Bonus: a winter bar await the victors. 15 December to 6 January

Christmas carols
Some of us pretend to have outgrown Christmas carols but can still be heard humming along to Silent Night at the shopping centre. So don’t be shy about attending one of the expat carol concerts in Brussels. The annual Brussels Carol Concert is back, and Brussels International Singers also present their annual Christmas Carol concert. Both are at the Royal Conservatory. Brussels International Singers 8 December, Brussels Carol Concert 16 December

Eastern glow


Antwerp’s China Light Zoo show is a parcours of colossal light installations that tell the story of a princess and her beloved. Gorgeous Chinese lanterns, arches, waterlilies and the story’s characters all glow with bright colours, occasionally supplemented by dance performances. Since it happens in the evening, you could combine the trip with a matinee in the Elisabeth Hall, right inside the zoo. The Charkov City Opera & Ballet, for instance, present the family-friendly Nutcracker on 16 December and Swan Lake on 6 January. Until 13 January

Winter Floridylle
Looking for a post-Christmas pick-me-up? A trail of glowing light installations creates a fairy-tale atmosphere in the Meise Botanic Garden. A lovely place any time of year, the garden’s ponds, trees and winter plants provide a perfect interplay to this audio-visual pageant, complete with live music and a winter village with food trucks. 27-29 December & 3-5 January

Ronse Winterlicht
The Flemish Ardennes provides year-round picture perfect landscapes, which is why the signposted Muziekbos walk just won Best Walking Route of the Year. The walk is in Ronse, which also puts on a series of events during the holiday season. Check out the foodie walking tour or the Midwinter Walk, or visit the Sint-Hermes Crypt by night. Little-known fact: Ronse’ largest church hold the relics of Saint Hermes, which made it a pilgrimage site for centuries. Its fully renovated crypt with moody lighting, former wellness baths and the occasional unearthed skeleton is breath-takingly eerie. The town’s Christmas market features more than 35 chalets on Grote Markt. Ronse packs this all into a three-day weekend. 14-16 December, across Ronse

Knokke-Heist Light Festival


Flanders’ northernmost seaside city introduces what it promises will be an annual event. The storytelling and interactive Light Festival takes inspiration for its first edition from The Little Prince. Along three kilometres, massive light installations beautifully illustrate pieces from the beloved children’s book. The entire city is playing along, with the theme sneaking into other holiday décor. All signs point to this being well worth a trip to the coast. 8-9 & 15-16 December & 21 December to 6 January, 17.00-22.00, across Knokke-Heist, start at tourist office, Zeedijk 660

A Ceremony of Carols
Opera Vlaanderen’s superb Children’s Choir leads us through Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, based on medieval yule and Christian-oriented texts. Also on the programme are César Franck’s Panis Angelicus and A Christmas Story, a brand new piece by Flemish composer Kurt Bikkembergs. This is nearly sold out, so book now. 23 December, Opera Gent; 26 December, Opera Antwerp

Music for Life
Studio Brussel’s massive annual fundraiser De Warmste Week includes a week-long Music for Life party in the open-air at Puyenbroeck recreational park in Wachtebeke. While three DJs will broadcast live 24 hours a day from the site in the week leading up to Christmas Eve, you are invited for concerts every night, featuring bands such as Hooverphonic, The Kooks and Bazart. Or pick up a ticket for one of the two big Party for Life nights featuring DJs like Netsky, Lost Frequencies and Discobaar. The site is also home to food trucks, plenty of drink and a super festival atmosphere. Worth the drive to rural East Flanders. 18-24 December, Puyenbroeck, Puyenbrug 1, Wachtebeke

Photos: Winter Wonders/Eric Danhier, China Light Zoo/Jonas Verhulst