It’s that time of the year again. The 22-metre-tall Normand fir tree has already made its way to the centre of the Grand Place, waiting for its decorations ahead of the official opening of the Winter Wonders (Plaisir d’Hiver) 2023.
On Friday, 24 November, at 6 pm, the lights on the tree will be turned on and, with them, the Winter Wonders will begin. Bringing back the Christmas Market, Winter Pop and famous Ferris wheel to watch over the Saint Cathrine square, the sparkly festival will be awaiting visitors until 31 December.
1.1. Christmas tree in Grand Place
As tradition dictates, the tree to adorn the Grand Place was donated by a Belgian resident. This year, it came from 87-year-old Maria, who lives in Lier, Antwerp. “Until yesterday, the tree stood in the garden of a house in the charming town of Lier in the province of Antwerp. It took five decades to grow into the giant it is today”, said Brussels Major Events, the organiser of the city’s winter festivities. “By donating it to the city of Brussels, the owners are now giving it a place worthy of its mighty appearance: on the most beautiful square in the world, where hundreds of thousands of visitors will admire it.”
Besides the usual golden lights and red baubles, each year the decorations of the tree follow the theme of the festival. This year, 11 Indigenous Nations of Quebec are the guest of honour at Winter Wonders, with 140 handmade traditional ornaments adorning the Normand fir. The ornaments include a Mi’kmaq star, a snowshoe, an inukshuk and a dreamcatcher, as well as 50 white light beads and a 2 km long garland of LED lights.
Although Winter Wonders ends on 31 December, the Christmas tree will still be in the Grand Place until 7 January, for those who prefer to wait until after the Christmas rush to admire it.
1.2. Sound and light show
Of course, with the tree, the light and sound show also returns to the Grand Place, with hourly projections on the gold leafed façades of the surrounding buildings, from 5 pm to 10 pm from Monday to Thursday. Friday to Sunday, the projections take place every half hour, from 5 pm to 10 pm.
Respecting the theme and the guest of honour, the 6 to 8 minutes long show is based this year on the work of Leilani Shaw, a Kanien’kehá ka (Mohawk) artist.
1.3. Brussels by lights
Complementing the vivid Grand Place and its light show, from the centre of Brussels to Neder-Over-Heembeek,, the Belgian capital’s streets are aglow with lights. Each year Brussels reveals itself in a show of new light creations in all shapes and forms: snowflakes, geometric jellyfish, snowmen and much more.
Since 2013, it has become one of the best habits of the City of Brussels to illuminate ever more and more of the capital’s streets and commercial thoroughfares (both literally and figuratively). This year, the eleventh edition features no less than 168 streets, including 8 new ones.
1.4. Winter Pop
And for the sixth year, the Winter Pop travelling village will be distilling magic and warmth in three districts of the City of Brussels over three consecutive weekends. Since its launch in 2017, this small popup village has been a huge hit year after year. During the festive season, the village spends the weekends in different areas and provides lots of fun creative activities for young and old: concerts, brass bands, dances, choirs, short film screenings, various initiations, theatre and fire shows, festive walks, face painting, association stands and much more.
For this sixth edition, Place Peter Benoît, Square Ambiorix and Place Willems will take it in turns to host the Winter Pop caravan, from 1 to 3 December, 8 to 12 December and 15 to 17 December respectively. The travelling village is open from 3 pm to 9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and from 2 pm to 7 pm on Sundays.
1.5. Winter Vox
Winter Vox is back each weekend, with six professional or amateur choirs offering recitals focused on Christmas songs, gospel, sacred chants, as well as bringing more pop and contemporary repertoires. Every Saturday and Sunday there are three performances each day, from 4 pm to 8 pm.
1.6. Christmas Market
Last year, Brussels’ Christmas Market was named the best in the world and it also remains one of the most popular Christmas markets in Europe. Offering a perfect balance between tradition and modernity, about 250 chalets will ravish the eyes of the curious and tantalise the taste buds of gourmets. The market is organised in various places around the city, with the activities taking place on Place De Brouckère, Place de la Monnaie and Grand-Place being extended until Sunday 7 January.
Among the usual villages the chalets will be split into, a village dedicated to the Indigenous Nations of Quebec, on Place de la Bourse, will give visitors a unique experience in the Shaputuan tent (a large traditional Indigenous tent), with an enhanced programme on Fridays. Among others, visitors should expect dances, songs, traditional know-how, lectures and multimedia experiences.
2. New features
Along with the usual programme, each Winter Wonders edition welcomes an array of new features and events and this year is no different. Below are just a few of this year’s special programmes.
2.1. Éloge de l’Air (In Praise of Air)
To be kinetic without a motor, sonorous without a sound system, interactive without technical overkill – this was the challenge taken up in creating the Éloge de l’Air. This innovative co-production between Quebec and Europe is based on the principle of inventing an installation dedicated to intercontinental travel and collaboration. It symbolises travel and embodies the idea of movement.
Éloge de l’Air is set at Mont des Arts on 9 flagpoles, each embellished with a transparent flag which reflects gold. It invites the audience to sway to activate the lights on either side of the swings.
2.2. Tribute to Magritte
To mark René Magritte’s 125th birthday, the City of Brussels has chosen to honour the famous Belgian painter with a range of artistic installation in collaboration with the Fondation Magritte and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts. Surrealism has been a cross-cutting theme in various events in Brussels this year and, during Winter Wonders, highlights will be placed on some of the collages of the “In the Footsteps of Magritte” trail, which sees some of the city’s streets transformed into open-air galleries.
2.3. Après-ski evenings
On Thursdays, A DJ set will keep skating fans entertained on Place De Brouckère from 6 pm to 10 pm, with a programme which reflects Brussels’ diversity of promoters and musical styles. In this way, groups with an established reputation are brought to the fore, alternating with other emerging groups. To round off the event in style, a Disco on Ice evening is being organised on the ice rink on Saturday, 6 January, from 6 pm to 10 pm.
2.4. World music
Every Tuesday, Place De Brouckère is brightened up by a series of musical strolls which weave their way through the streets. There’s something for everyone, with brass bands of different styles each week: Indian, Balkan, Latin, African, Arabic and more. The closing evening is hosted by Belgian Krewe on 2 January.