Carnival of Binche

Carnival of Binche

Carnival of Binche

Nearly 1000 “Gilles,” traditionally male and ranging in age anywhere from toddler to elder, appear in a heavy overstuffed, vibrant costume consisting of clogs and bells. In the morning they wield sticks to ward off evil while donning a disconcerting wax mask with green glasses, the latter of which is swapped for hats decorated with towering white ostrich plumes in the afternoon.

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 the best known of several that take place in Belgium at the same time and has been proclaimed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity listed by UNESCO.

Events related to the carnival begin up to seven 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 directly prior to Ash Wednesday in costume.

Later during the day, they don large hats adorned with ostrich plumes, which can cost more than $300 US dollars to rent, and march through the town with baskets of oranges. These oranges are thrown to, and sometimes at,members of the crowd gathered to view the procession.

Virtually nothing about the dress, customs, rituals, or reception has changed across centuries. Though written accounts of the Gilles date back to the 18th century, extensive scholarly efforts have produced no answers as to the original source of this authentically Walloon tradition.