The colorful Carnival of Binche is a must-see Belgian town celebration featuring unusual local traditions dating back to the 14th century. Each year, residents of Binche don exuberant costumes and host a world-famous three-day carnival of street performances, music and dancing leading up to Ash Wednesday. Although similar carnivals take place throughout the country at the same time, Binche itself is by far the best place to witness this extraordinary Belgian tradition at its finest. Just 34 miles from Brussels, Binche is an easy side trip and worth checking out if you find yourself in the area at this time of year.
The costumes of Binche are a sight in themselves, with upwards of 1,000 residents, mostly men, dressing up in elaborate, often eerie, clown masks and attire to represent what are known as "Gilles." The strange character of the Gille is at the heart of the Carnival of Binche, praised for his ability to rid the town of evil spirits by waving a wooden stick. Check out the last day of the carnival for the most action and most outrageous Gille costumes, including majestic ostrich plumed hats.
And don't forget to watch your head! In the afternoon, the Gilles march through town and throw oranges at onlookers, sometimes causing damage to local property.
If you can't make it to Binche for the three days before Ash Wednesday, you can catch special Sunday performances in the seven weeks leading up to the main carnival, or visit the charming museum in the town center dedicated to the carnival.
Photo by looking4poetry on flickr
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