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The Carnival of Binche Will Not Push Through this 2022, Killed by the Coronavirus Barometer

The Carnival of Binche is canceled. Because of the implementation of the coronavirus barometer in Belgium, local officials of Binche and the decision-makers of the Association for the Defence of Folklore (ADF) decided to not proceed with holding the Carnival of Binche. 

Laurent Devin, the mayor of Binche, said that “the barometer has killed the Binche carnival”. The coronavirus barometer will be implemented on January 28, 2022. By that time, the country will be in code red. This comes with certain regulations for the sectors related to culture, events, and hospitality. Therefore, the situation in the country will make it highly unfavorable for the organizers to prepare for the event and eventually hold it. 

Stakeholders that have already invested in the event will not be left to bear the consequences on their own. Support, in the form of aid premiums, will be given to those who are negatively affected by the cancellation of the event. 

There have already been challenges along the way in trying to prepare for the Carnival of Binche. The surge in the number of cases brought about by the omicron variant halted all the plans that they had. Drum rehearsals were cancelled, while performances were rescheduled to suit the COVID-19 situation in the country. 

Throughout all of the difficulties, government officials and organizers remained hopeful that they could still proceed with the Carnival of Binche. All these efforts will now go to waste with the implementation of the coronavirus barometer. 

Efforts to promote culture by holding carnivals and other similar events will not be stopped just because the Carnival of Binche was cancelled. Didier Rombaux, the president of the Binche ADF, says that he is still open to preparing for and conducting such events. When conditions are more favorable, the association and other stakeholders can come together again to make the events happen. Mayor Devin claims that discussions about the fate of other carnivals will be held.

What is the Carnival of Binche?

The Carnival of Binche is one of the oldest street carnivals still being held in Europe ever since its existence decades ago. UNESCO declared it as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.   

Although the origins of the carnival of Binche are not exactly known, it is believed to be associated with the parade that Mary of Hungary prepared for Charles Quint, her brother, in the year 1549. At that time, participants of the parade wore costumes bursting with color. This contributed to what the Gilles wear during the carnival now.  

The Carnival of Binche is closely tied to celebrations for Easter. Citizens and residents take the Carnival of Binche seriously. They invest time, effort, and money to make every year a success. 

On Ash Wednesday, which is 40 days prior to Easter, practicing Catholics are encouraged to begin a fasting period. Gras refers to the seven days before the fasting period begins. It is also referred to as “shrove” in English. During this time, Catholics allow themselves to enjoy a bit before they practice Lent traditions.

The Carnival of Binche occurs three days before Lent, officially beginning on Shrove Sunday and ultimately culminating on Mardi Gras. However, preparations for the carnival are done all year round. The atmosphere associated with the carnival is also already felt as early as the start of January. Citizens and individuals residing in Binche create their costumes, partake in drum rehearsals, and attend themed balls.

Costumes worn during this carnival draw their inspiration from various sources. They can design it to reflect current events, characters in movies, political issues, and cultures of other societies. 

Rehearsals are conducted throughout the six Sundays leading up to Shrove Sunday. This is done to ensure that the drummers and musicians are well-prepared for the carnival. 

The men are also very enthusiastic about participating as Gilles. They allocate money to produce lavish costumes. Women support them by preparing for the different activities held during the carnival. They wear hats that are unique every year.  

Gilles dressed up at the Carnival of Binche
Men wearing the traditional costume of the Gilles

When Shrove Sunday comes, individuals wearing their colorful and lavish masks and costumes roam around the streets and cafes. Many mam’selles are seen, especially on this Sunday. 

The youth in Binche take center stage on Shrove Monday. Members of the Catholic Youth, Liberal Youth, and Socialist Youth Associations go around the different cafes, bringing with them the viola. A confetti battle among bars is held at 11 a.m. on the same day. At 7 pm, fireworks go off by the train station. This is accompanied by the sound of the drums. 

On the Tuesday of the celebration period, Mardi Gras is held. At 7 am, participants enjoy champagne and oysters for breakfast. 

The Gilles, who are considered the main characters of the carnival, finally come out on Mardi Gras. Men prepare as early as the wee hours of the morning by wearing their costumes and ensuring that they project the boxy body of Gilles. They come together and walk to the city hall. As they do so, they put on their masks, which reflects the image of a bourgeois in the days of Napoleon III. 

A medal ceremony is then held at the City Hall. Men who have participated as Gilles for 75 years are given a medal. Being able to participate in the carnival as a Gille brings much honor to all men in the country. It is with great pride that they wear their costumes and march down the streets. 

At around 3pm, the Gilles go around town, walking to the beat of the drum. All Gilles have to have a drum with them as they walk. They also remove their masks by then and wear feathered hats instead. They use their sabots against the cobblestone streets to remove the chilly weather brought about by the winter season. 

Children dress up as peasants and join the festivities.

Women dressed as pierrots, harlequins, and peasants, brass and clarinet bands, and all individuals wearing costumes follow this joyful procession. Oranges are thrown by the Gilles during this time. It is believed that catching an orange will give the one who caught it good luck for the rest of the year. However, if an orange hits your head, it is considered bad luck. Individuals cannot throw the oranges at the Gilles because doing so is an unacceptable practice. 

By 8pm, a rondeau is formed by the characters and musicians play festive songs. It ends with Gilles performing a dance number in the Grand Place as fireworks are launched.

The Carnival of Binche brings all citizens together to celebrate this event. However, because of the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, it will not happen this year. It is an unfortunate incident as this event is very rich in culture and history for Belgians. 

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