What does Belgium celebrate on its National Day, and how?

What does Belgium celebrate on its National Day, and how?
Princess Eleonore, Prince Gabriel, Queen Mathilde, King Philippe, Crown Princess Elisabeth and Prince Emmanuel leave after the Te Deum mass, on the occasion of the Belgian National Day, in Brussels. Credit: Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck

On 21 July, Belgium is celebrating its National Day, which means public services in Belgium will close their doors, most people are getting a day off and festivities are taking place across the country.

For the first time since 2019, after the Covid-19 pandemic saw all or most events being cancelled in 2020 and 2021, large-scale festivities are once again taking place in Belgium, with the official celebrations happening in Brussels.

But what is Belgium celebrating on this day? 

Even though Belgium became an independent state in 1830, the national holiday dates back to 1831, when the country’s first King took the oath.

After the Belgian Revolution in 1830, which led to the country’s independence, the National Congress decided to make Belgium a kingdom.

On 4 June 1831, the same National Congress elected Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha as the first King of the Belgians.

Leopold I’s entry into Belgium began on 16 July 1831 when he travelled by boat from the English town of Dover to Calais in France, after which he was taken to the Belgian border village of De Panne on the coast the next day.

He travelled further through the country's cities, such as Bruges and Ghent, and on 21 July 1831, he took the constitutional oath as the first king of the Belgians on the Place Royale in Brussels.

What has been planned for National Day?

Like every year, several ceremonies are held to commemorate the day, starting with the Belgian royal family, as well as the country’s political institutions, ambassadors and representatives of various European institutions, attending the Te Deum hymn in several religious venues across the country.

In the afternoon, the royal family will attend the National Day ceremony – a military and civilian parade – at the Place des Palais, which will be dedicated to 'everyday heroes' who make a difference in their own ways, such as neighbours who help the weak or sick in their neighbourhoods, grandparents, and volunteers.

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The military parade will start at 16:00, and will later be followed by a parade by the Ministry of Defence, in cooperation with the Federal Police, which will pay tribute to all the people “who ensure the safety of our citizens every day,” including the Belgian Defence and the various police zones.

The various events in Brussels will have a slight impact on regional transport, as several streets and tunnels surrounding Place des Palais and the Cinquantenaire Park will be closed to traffic throughout most of the day.

From 21:00, numerous Belgian artists (Coely, Typh Barrow and Niels Destadsbader, among others) and a few surprise acts will take the stage at Cinquantenaire Park as part of the first large-scale concert organised for the National Day. They will be followed by a closing DJ set that will accompany the fireworks show from 23:00.

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