Monday, February 28, 2011


   The Carnival of Binche is an event that takes place each year in the Belgian town of Binche, during the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday.  The carnival is best known of all the others that take place in Belgium,  at the same time and has been proclaimed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.  Its history dates back to approximately the 14th century.

   Events related to the carnival begin up to 7 weeks prior to the primary celebrations.  Street performances and public displays traditionally occur on the Sundays approaching Ash Wednesday, consisting of prescribed musical acts, dancing  and marching.  Large numbers of Binche's inhabitants spend the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday in costume.

   The centerpiece of the carnival,  are clown like performers,  known as Gilles.  Appearing, for the most part, on  "Shrove" Tuesday, the Giles are characterised by their vibrant dress, wax masks and wooden footwear.  They number up to 1,000 at any given time, ranging in age from 3 to 60 years old, and are customarily male.  The honor of being a Gille at the carnival is something that is aspired to by local men.  From dawn on the morning of the carnival's final day, Gilles appear in the center of Binche, to dance to the sound of drums and ward off evils spirits by slapping sticks together.  Later, during the day, they don large hats adorned with Ostrich plums, which can cost upward of $300 dollars to rent, and march through town carrying baskets of oranges.  These oranges are thrown to, and sometimes at, members of the crowd that gather to view the procession.  The vigor and longevity of the orange throwing event has in the past, caused damage to property...some residents choose to seal windows to prevent this.

   On Shrove Tuesday townspeople don their fancy costumes that were imagined and made months before and created by each participant.  In the morning at approximately 8 a.m. the drums go from  house to house to gather up the participants.  At about 10 a.m., the small groups collected by the drums meet in the heart of Binche.  It is the moment the townspeople prefer, when they discover the marvelous, original costumes.  At about 3:30 p.m., people gather at the station area.  The societies go back to the center of Binche, dancing to the music of the drums and the brass bands, forming a living multicolored ribbon.

  On Shrove Monday, the feast is a  traditional,  more private gathering of locals.  To the tune of the viols and the hurdy-gurdies, they all go from pub to pub, and from pub to friends and neighbors houses, as they get ready to invite the voil, who are dancing in the streets.
   At about 3 p.m. the children gather, just like the adults had done the day before.  The younger ones dance to the music of the drums and brass bands.  They then convene in the Town Square, they all dance to the "rondeau de l'amite."  Then after hours of dancing and singing until about 8 p.m., they leave to enjoy fireworks at the stationing area.