Joris Salden, consul general of Belgium in Guangzhou, arrived in Guangzhou five months ago. China is the first Asian country he has worked in, and this is the first time that he has celebrated Christmas here. Between Christmas and New Year’s day, Silk Road Post had a chance to interview Salden to learn more about Belgium and the country’s Christmas traditions, as well as its cooperative relationship with Guangzhou.
Joris Salden, Consul General of Belgium in Guangzhou
Christmas in Belgium starts December 6, St. Nicholas' Day, which is an important family day, as is Christmas eve, when the whole family comes together. The Christmas celebration runs through January 6.
Salden told Silk Road Post that Belgians call January 6 “the Feast of the Three Kings,” when, tradition says, three kings came to bring presents to the people. Children would dress as kings and sing at their homes so they might get candies. Usually people put up their Christmas trees around December 6, and the children believed that St. Niklaas, (or Santa Claus, in English), would give them presents.
Christmas dinner is an indispensable part of the Christmas Eve festivities. Belgium is known for its very good food, according to Salden, and at Christmas time, he and his compatriots become intensely involved in the country's holiday cuisine. Unlike Italians, who do not typically eat meat at Christmas eve dinner, according to Salden, Belgium has lots of traditional seasonal dishes, such as salmon, stuffed turkey, and Christmas tree cake. Also on Christmas day, Belgians traditionally eat for breakfast ‘cougnou,’ a type of bread with raisins and sugar. Salden said there is a very good Belgian chef at Guangzhou’s Sofitel hotel, so even here, Belgians and their families and friends can eat the very traditional Belgian Christmas dessert, Christmas tree cake.
Christmas tree cake, the traditional Belgian Christmas dessert
Belgium is a beautiful place to visit
When talking of visitors traveling in Belgium, Salden highly recommends that people spend at least three or four days in the country, so they can see and experience the European country’s beautiful old cities.
Brussels, the capital, is a well-known city that should be on every visitor’s’ lists of places to see. If you like art, there is the René Magritte museum, and if you like comics, the Tintin museum. Belgians claim the oldest covered shopping mall in the world, Galerie de la Reine, is located in Brussels. The capital is home to lots of luxury boutiques, clock makers and chocolate shops, as well as an assortment of restaurants.
Besides Brussel, Bruges is another great city to visit. Salden said, “Bruges is amazing, and it is a postcard-pretty town.” The city is very old. Even in the winter time, one still can see how beautiful Bruges is.
Another city not to miss is Ghent. The Ghent altarpiece is the most famous artwork in the city’s cathedral. It is a very large and complex 15th-century Flemish polyptych icon.
The country is relatively small and has very good transportation connections. For example, it takes only 35 minutes to get from Brussels to Ghent. You can even make the trip by sea in no more than an hour. And the journey from the capital to Bruges can be accomplished in 45 minutes. Trains will take you anywhere you want to go in Belgium. Even Paris is only 45 mints from Brussels — and living in Belgium is much cheaper than it is in France.
Joris Salden wishes everyone a happy new year.
A variety of Belgian events will come to Guangzhou next year
Belgium and Guangdong province have strong ties in business trade and cultural exchange. During the interview, Salden said that the consulate will continue working in 2017 with the Guangzhou library and will collaborate with library officials on literary events. They will sponsor promotional events about Belgium and Belgian products, such as beer and diamonds. Salden pointed out that the Belgian province of Limburg has a trading agreement with Guangdong Province and representatives will return to Guangzhou in October to continue promoting the good relationship between the two provinces.
(By Penny Liu, Louis Berney, photos by Bobo Wang)