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My big, fat Belgian wedding
Planning on getting married in Belgium? Don’t do a thing until you’ve read the Bulletin’s ultimate guide to organising your big day
Who can get married in Belgium?
Anyone who has legally resided in Belgium for a minimum of three months is allowed to get married here. In 2003, Belgium became only the second country in the world to recognise same-sex marriage, giving all couples the same legal benefits with regards to tax, property and inheritance law, etc.
What do you need to get married in Belgium?
Once you have made the decision to get married, set a date and then head to the marriage office in the town you live (it will most likely be your town hall) and tell them. You’ll sign a ‘Huwelijksaangifte’ or ‘Déclaration de mariage’ which says you will be getting married anywhere from two weeks to six months. If you don’t get married within this time period you have to apply for another notice.
A word on the civil wedding:
the civil ceremony is the only legal form of marriage in Belgium. Any ceremony that takes place in a religious venue is considered an optional extra, albeit a popular one. Both the civil and the church should be booked well in advance; a minimum of six months for smaller times and up to a year for cities, and both should be in a town where one of the partners is a legal resident. The civil ceremony is a brief and intimate affair. It takes place at the town hall and in many cases only the couple, their two witnesses and close family will attend. It takes about 15 minutes and if this is the only ceremony you are planning to have, this is also where you will exchange rings. This civil service is inexpensive, but if you want upgrades such as certain times, dates or extras such as more regal, impressive rooms, there are additional fees.
How do I get a marriage license?
If you are already registered at your town hall you will only need to bring your original birth certificates and residence permits to get a marriage license. Officials will also need to know the date of your wedding, proof of any pre-nuptial agreements, two witnesses and their birth dates, proof of where you will live after getting married, and details of any children from a previous marriage. Those who are not registered at a Belgian town hall must bring proof of national, martial status and your last legal residence. These documents need to be quite official, so check with your embassy to make sure they’ll be accepted.
Countdown to the big day
18 months before
Before you can do any of the fun stuff, first you need to discuss the least romantic but most important element of tying the knot. Sometimes it isn’t a question of how much can you afford but how much you want to spend. Once you decide, this will provide a framework for all other decisions.
Once you’ve sorted out the budget, you need to decide on whether you would like to have a wedding reception and if so, how many people this will include. In Belgium, it is the custom to split the attendees in to various parts of the day. For instance, the actual wedding ceremony might only be attended by family while colleagues are invited to a cocktail reception followed by a wedding party for good friends and family.
- Finding a venue
Belgium is full of great reception venues covering all bases from grand châteaux to swanky hotels to boats. Check out Belgian wedding portal www.mariage.be/www.huwelijk.be or venue websites www.ceremony.be and www.eventonline.be for a comprehensive list of venues by region. For some of the swankiest venues in Brussels – with catering – check out www.chouxdebruxelles.be, and if you are dreaming of a fairytale wedding La Vie de Château (www.laviedechateau.be)lists some of the most beautiful historical buildings in Brussels and Wallonia.
12 months before
Now that you have the date set and the venue sorted, it’s time to zone in on the details, the most important being the catering. It may come with the venue or you might need to organise it separately. Do you want to go for a full sit-down meal or something simpler like a walking dinner? A lot will depend on the amount of time, money and guests you have but Brussels-based caterer LaBritannique comes highly recommended, offering modern and inventive British/pan European fare (www.labritannique.com). So does Evere-based traiteur L’Huîtrère & Eole, which offers “tailor-made gastronomy” in a more traditional Belgian style (www.huitriere-eole.be).
Do you want a photographer, a videographer or both? Make sure you see previous examples of their work before selecting. You could opt for something a little alternative as well. De Praatpaal (www.depraatpaal.be) is a video recorder which connects to a large, visible button, which is pressed to begin recording. The bride and groom select a number of questions which the guests have to answer on film such as ‘what advice do you have for the newlyweds?’ to ‘tell us your favorite joke’.
Buying dresses for the bride and bridesmaids is one of the more fun aspects of getting married. From couture to off the rack, exploring the many shops and boutiques is best left to the bride. A good place to start is Le Chapeau in Antwerp which has one of the biggest selections of designer dresses in Benelux. (www.lechapeau.be). In Brussels, Johanna Riss offers simple but elegant made-to-measure and off-the-rack wedding gowns (www.johannariss.com) as does newcomer Les Souers Waziers in Ixelles (www.soeurswaziers.com).Purchasing a suit, on the other hand, isn’t often high on the list for the groom. Allow Café Costume (www.cafecostume.com) to take away the stress. Third generation tailors, with shops in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent they offer beautifully tailored suits starting from €450. The groom himself determines the look of his suit, selecting the style, fabric, lining, finish of the pockets and the buttons from a menu. There’s even an option to have a custom inscription on the inside of the jacket such as your initials, the date of the wedding, even ‘I do’.
Now is a good time to select a florist. They will have photo books which you can peruse to get a sense of their style. As well as a bouquet and buttonhole flowers you will also need to consider the church decorations and table arrangements for the reception, as well as what flowers are in season. Anne Duchâteau (www.mariagebyduchateau.com)in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre have 45 years of experience and are on hand to help with all floral matters.
- Draw up a gift registry
Be sure to find a place that makes ordering online easy, which is especially important for guests that live outside the country.
- Select a DJ or band
As a sizeable chunk of your budget will go toward entertainment you need to get it right. First, decide whether you want a DJ or live band, then decide on the style. For recommendations, you can either ask around, head to a live music venue and check out the local talent or have a look at the suggestions on www.mariage.be/www.huwelijk.be.
Six months before
From picking the paper to the font, your stationery sets the tone for the wedding. Make a good first impression with your Save the Date card, typically sent about six months in advance. The actual invitation itself, which should be sent three months before the wedding, usually mentions the parents of both the bride and groom and offers a means to respond. Also don’t forget the menus. While you can always go to a chain store, like FNAC, to review books of pre-made wedding cards, why not make your message as unique as your relationship and have one tailor-made by the Card House? www.kaartjeshuis.be
You can either arrange all the flights, accommodation and extras for your honeymoon yourself using a travel website such as www.connections.be or you can enlist the help of a specialist travel agent like Arthema (www.arthema.com) or VIP Selection (www.vip-selection.be).
How you will get from the town hall to the reception venue and then back home or to your hotel before heading to the airport? Will you be alone or with your wedding party? As well as offering complete wedding planning services, Royal Event have over 1,000 makes of luxury cars available as well as double decker buses (www.royal-event.com). If you prefer something more traditional, Foubert Coach Hire have a number of horse-drawn options (www.koetsenverhuur-foubert.be).
3 months before
- Order your cake
Have fun taste-testing at various bakeries and the you can decide what style and flavour you want. But whether you want an elegant tiered sponge cake or a tower of chocolate cupcakes The French Cake Company in Rhode-Saint-Genèse (www.thefrenchcakecompany.com) cover all bases.
- Decide on decoration for the venue
- Send out invitations
- Arrange music selection/playlist
- Arrange visa and vaccinations for honeymoon, if needed
- Hair and make up decisions
Book a hair and make-up trial so that you know exactly what you will look like on the day. While there’s no shortage of hairdressers and beauty salons offering wedding services, if you are looking for someone who can come to your home both Laurence M at Home (www.laurence-m.com) and Coiffure 777 (www.coiffure777.be) offer the full hair and beauty package
- Go shopping for shoes, accessories and lingerie
And make sure everything fits comfortably while sitting down, standing and dancing.
- Pick the wedding rings
Whether you want something simple or ornate, your ring will be with you for as long as you keep your vows. Make sure it matches your personal style. Inscriptions are common and can help add meaning to an already symbolic piece of jewellery. In terms of choice, Antwerp probably has the most options, especially in the Diamand district just by the train station although there is plenty on offer in Brussels, especially around the Grand’Place, Avenue Louise and Rue Dansaert.
One month before
- Buy thank you cards and gifts for wedding party
- Create a schedule of the day’s events and send it to all vendors
Three weeks before
- Confirm final number of guests to caterers
- Final dress fittings
- Bachelor/ette party
Don’t even think about delaying this to the week of the wedding. Often planned by the best friend or relative of the bride or groom, the details are kept a secret. One of the first rules of a Belgium-based bash is that the person to be married has to wear a silly costume so that they are easily recognized: think men in diapers, French maids, Hawaiian luaus and the ever-popular, men dressed as women and women dressed as men. Other local traditions including forcing the bachelor and bachelorette to do a number of embarrassing tasks which resemble a treasure hunt or a game show but aim to prove he or she will be a good husband or wife. But not to worry, all mortifying behavior is kept a secret from your future partner, as these celebrations are almost always kept separate.
Two weeks before
· Confirm times for hair and make-up
· Draw up a reception seating plan
One week before
- Pick up your dress/suit
- Break in shoes to prevent any blisters
- Book a spa treatment to destress and beautify
The day before
- Pack for your honeymoon
- Rehearse the wedding ceremony (if there is one)
- Pay vendors
On the day of the wedding
- Get hair and make-up done
- Get married at the town hall and get your marriage certificate
While the bride can throw the bouquet and have her garter taken off, this isn’t a Belgian tradition. However, the cutting of the cake is and is symbolic of the first shared action together as a couple.
- Party at the reception
- Head off to your honeymoon
- And breathe!
After the wedding