Every year, in the period that precedes the Easter, Belgium becomes home for a multitude of street performances that can be resumed in one word: Carnival.
The tiny Belgian country is historically studded with folkloric events that demonstrate the diversity of the single city as the citizens take control over the most diverse forms of ancient arts.
Take the city of Binche.
This picturesque city of the Walloon French-speaking Region is widely known for its Carnival, especially after its inscription on the UNESCO’s list of oral and intangible heritage in 2003.
Every year, thousands of tourists from all over the world gather in the municipality of Binche in order to take part to this fun and colorful folkloric event that takes place the week preceding Ash Wednesday (in 2016: February 7,8,9th).
What happens during these days is pretty much the invasion of a fantasy world over real life. It is not fantasy though: it is a piece of history, folklore and a whole bunch of centuries-old forms of art carefully passed on by the inhabitants that cherish and give value to their cultural identity.
The main characters of the Carnival events are the Gilles, clown-like performers dressed in typical costumes and wax masks that animate Shrove Tuesday by dancing and acting, perfectly playing their character all-day long.
Not only performances, but also the Gille’s attire in a creation of masters’ artisans that is passed on for several years. in fact a Gille does not own his costume but borrows it from the City’s closet and takes good care of it.
In order to be a Gille strict rules have to be followed: first of all, a Gille is a member of a Binche’s family who has been a citizen for at least five years. Moreover, a Gille can only wear his costume on Shrove Tuesday and must not wear it outside of the town’s boarders at any time.
The wax mask is exclusively produced in Binche thanks to the registration in the European Patent Office, and can only be seen in this city.
On Shrove Tuesday, while the sun raises the show begins: the fist Gille gets out of the house after being dressed with help of his family, and walks along with a drum beat towards his companions’ houses, picking them up and heading to the Grand Place. On this day the Gill always moves at the sound of drums. While marching and dancing the Gilles use a ramon (a sort of wooden stick) to give the rhythm. The music played during Carnival is a collection of twenty-six Saumones specifically played during this season, incrementing the number of exclusive performative arts that make the Carnival of Binche the amazing experience that it is.
in addiction to that, a singular tradition is the oyster and champagne based lunch and the “oranges battle” (participants throw oranges at the other members of the group) in the main square.
While other fancy balls, parades and concerts take place in the city, there is a very fun staging you could be caught into during the Monday festivities one week before Shrove Tuesday: the trouilles des nouilles. This is an acting game played by the masked Binche inhabitants that consists of teasing one’s friend and dare him to recognize the person hidden behind the mask. The jackpot, if you win, is nothing but a glass of wine and a priceless fun atmosphere.
As some of you might consider the Carnival a great experience of folklore, I myself think at it as a great piece of art.
What I would like to do is to bring your attention to the unicity of the Carnival characters’ acting. Each of them is personified by someone who is deeply involved in his role and has done an effort to understand the mask’s identity, just like a great actor would do. The music, the dancing, the acting and the teasing are all arts that are so unique and well performed that the Unesco inscription on the the list of intangible heritage is not enough: we all need to take part to it and spread the knowledge.
Carnival of Binche – Belgium