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Le Carnival de Binche

The Binche Carnival

When: 6th – 8th March 2011
Where: Binche, Belgium

The three days before Ash Wednesday sees the Belgian town of Binche into a frenzy of parades and a carnival where bizarrely clad men parade through town, pelting oranges at willing onlookers lining the streets.

Men dressed as ‘Gilles’ adorn impressive ostrich feather headdress and outlandish suits - coloured red, yellow and black like the Belgium flag. They stuff their outfits with straw for a hunch-back appearance and trim with wooden clogs, bells and wax green-eyed masks.

From 4am Gilles dance through the streets to beating drums and shaking sticks to ward off evil spirits. In the afternoon local boys join the procession, carrying baskets of oranges to hurl into the crowd.

If you make it to the festival be prepared to take this onslaught of oranges without retaliation - it is a gift and the tradition symbolically blesses the forthcoming summer.

The age-old carnival began as a pre-Lenten celebration, though today’s trademark festivities were born in the nineteenth century. The costumes were designed in the later period as a modern version of the elaborate dress worn by courtiers in 1549.

Visitors from around the world come to witness Belgium’s most bizarre festival, which has been listed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

If you do go, pay a visit to the Museum of Carnival and Mask to see exhibits of Belgium’s Binche Carnival.

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