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

What does Belgium celebrate on its National Day, and how?
The Belgian royals during the National Day in 2020. Credit: Belga

On 21 July, Belgium will celebrate its National Day, which will mean public services in Belgium will close their doors, most people will get a day off and festivities will take place across the country.

In comparison with last year, when most events were cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, slightly more events will take place this year.

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 Dover to Calais, in France, after which he was taken to the Belgian border village of De Panne the next day.

He travelled further through the country, among others through 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?

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 entirely dedicated to those who played a role in the battle against the coronavirus crisis in recent months.

The parade, which did not take place last year, will be “more compact and modern” this year, according to the authorities.

The military parade will start at 2:00 PM, and will later be followed by a parade by the Ministry of Defence, in cooperation with the Federal Police, which will organise a “dynamic demonstration, during which the military personnel will demonstrate their know-how” for the first time.

This will be followed by a civilian emergency services parade, divided into four themes: educations and youth; vaccination; care and health; and logistics. All “Covid heroes” will be honoured in the parade itself, but also through video testimonials and during live music performances in various locations across the country.

Some of the Covid heroes have also been invited to attend the artistic performances, which will include Belgian talents such as Esohe Weyden and Félix Radu, Loïc Nottet, Bazart, Zwangere Guy and Roméo Elvis.

The ceremony is also in honour of all students in Belgium, to “thank them for the courage they have shown during this long period of the fight against the pandemic,” and various students have been invited to attend the event.

As was the case last year, the Festival in the Park in the Parc de la Warande and the fireworks display will not take place this year, and the general public will not be able to attend either the ceremony or the local performances.

The various events in Brussels will have a slight impact on regional transport, as the Parc metro station will be closed from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, whilst several entrances to the Central Station, Arts-Loi, Maelbeek and Schuman stations will be inaccessible for part of the day.

Several streets surrounding Place des Palais will also be closed off throughout the day.

The King and Queen will finish the day with a visit to Farra Clerlande in Ottignies, a residence for adults with severe or profound mental disabilities, and to the National MS Centre in Melsbroek.

Lauren Walker & Maïthé Chini

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