Carnival in Wallonia: drums, Gilles' clogs and oompah music
The Gilles of Binche, stars and ambassadors for Walloon carnivals all over the world.
The carnival of Binche and its famous Gilles has been listed as a UNESCO masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity since 2003. It has to be said that with their imposing ostrich feather hats and the throwing of oranges, the Gilles are very impressive.
In Binche, festivities are prepared weeks in advance. Starting with the soumonces (pre-carnival day of celebration) then the carnival balls and the Trouilles de Nouilles. The three 'jours gras' (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday) will see festivities pick up speed until Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday), day of the parade withe the Gilles in their wonderful costumes and feathered hats.
The Gilles aren't only in Binche, as Nivelles also has Gilles who trample the ground with their clogs. In Nivelles, the Gilles are accompanied by the town's giants Argayon, Argayonne and their son Lolo. You will also find Gilles in Charleroi and Tamines.
The Rheinish tradition of carnival
Another region, another folklore. In the East Cantons, more precisely in Eupen and its surrounding area, carnival is inspired by Rheinish tradition. This means that in Eupen, Kelmis and Raeren, carnival begins on 11 November at 11:11am and is presided over by the Carnival Prince.
Typical to Eupen, "Jeudi des vieilles femmes" (Old Ladies Thursday) is a day when women take control in the town. The parade takes place on Rosenmontag or Rose Monday. Throughout the festivities, the town echoes with the sound of the famous cry of Alaaf! In Welkenraedt, carnival is also inspired by Rheinist tradition but takes place during Laetare.
Grosse Biesse, le Mauvais Bien, La Haguète: carnival's celebrities
Some carnivals, like those of Marche-en-Famenne with its "Grosse Biesse" (Big Beast) and Petigny with its "Mauvais Bien" (Evil Good) are linked to a main character from legend or specific to the region.
In Malmedy, carnival becomes "Cwarmê d'Mâm’dî", as at the malmedy carnival, everything is done in the local Walloon dialect. At the centre of the Cwarmê festivities is La Haguète.
In Malmedy, on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, the Grosse Police announces the start of carnival and the mayor passes power to the Trouv’lê. On Mardi Gras is the day of the famous Burning of the Haguète.
Also, in Ermeton, it's the Tchesse aux Macrales (Witch Hunt) which involves a parody of the kinds of witches trials that will have taken place back in the 16th century.
But there are many successive carnivals and they are all different. However, all are colourful, gaudy, and lively with the drums, oompah music and brass bands, and they invite you to join the party.