Taking place in February or March, the four-hundred-year-old Binche Carnival is a magic combination of the country’s national preoccupation with beer – outdoor beer tents are stacked high with a huge variety of Belgian brews – and a bizarre tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.
The spectacular March of the Gilles is a parade of six hundred peculiarly and identically dressed men – the Gilles – strange, giant-like figures who dominate this event, all wearing the same wax masks, along with green glasses and moustaches, apparently in the style of Napoleon III. On Mardi Gras, groups of Gilles gather in the Grand-Place to dance around in a huge circle, or rondeau, holding hands and tapping their wooden-clogged feet in time to the beat of the drum. The drummers, or tamboureurs, are situated in the middle of the circle, as are a smaller rondeau of petits Gilles. Get inside the circles if you can; here, you’re perfectly placed to get dragged in with Gilles as they head into the town hall to ritually remove their masks. In the afternoon, they emerge to lead the Grand Parade, sporting tall hats, elaborately adorned with ostrich feathers, and clutching wooden baskets filled with oranges, which they throw with gusto into the crowd, covering everyone in blood-red juice and pulp. Be warned, though, that this ferocious “battle” is a decidedly one-sided affair – it’s not done to throw them back.
See www.carnavaldebinche.be for more info.