Ascension Day: What is it, and what is open in Belgium today?

Ascension Day: What is it, and what is open in Belgium today?
Illustration picture shows people enjoying the beach at the Belgian coast. Credit: Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck

For many, today's bank holiday is the start of a long weekend (assuming that tomorrow is taken as a day off). But those who are not religious may not realise that Ascension, sometimes called Holy Thursday, marks the day that Christians believe Jesus' body ascended into heaven.

The public holiday always falls on a Thursday, exactly 39 days after Jesus' resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday, and ten days before Pentecost (which falls on 5 June this year).

The celebration is part of the Easter cycle, in which Ascension Day counts as the 40th day of Easter. As Easter and Pentecost are determined on the basis of the lunar calendar, they fall on different dates each year.

In the Flemish city of Bruges, the annual procession of the Holy Blood takes place today. Since 2009, this event has been inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural World Heritage Sites.

On Ascension weekend, the 100 km of Ypres, an international three-day hike also known as the 'In Flanders Fields March' is also held annually in and around the West-Flemish city.

What's open today?

As with other public holidays, public and administration services, such as postal and municipal services, will not operate; neither will banks.

Most Carrefour supermarkets will be open on Thursday, as well as some of Delhaize’s smaller Shop’n’Go markets, but Aldi, Lidl and Colruyt shops will remain closed.

Most shopping malls and retail shops will be shut as well, including the Woluwe Shopping Center and Docks Bruxsel. But doors will open again on Friday and Saturday. Most other stores on the Rue Neuve in Brussels will also close their doors on Thursday, but reopen again on Friday.

The majority of restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as museums, amusement parks, zoos and parks, will be open. The Belgian coast is also expecting an influx of tourists this long Ascension weekend.

Belgium’s national railway service, SNCB, as well as Brussels public transport STIB and bus services De Lijn and TEC will continue to operate, but at a reduced service schedule.

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