Carnival of Binche


Also found in: Wikipedia.

Carnival of Binche

February-March; seven weeks preceding Shrove Tuesday
Carnival of Binche is the most famous pre-Lenten carnival in Belgium and one of the most unusual in Europe. Festivities in Binche, a town of 10,000 population, begin seven weeks before Lent starts and culminate on Mardi Gras with day-long rites of elaborately costumed, orange-throwing clowns called Gilles, which means, roughly, "fools" or "jesters." Some 200,000 visitors come for the Mardi Gras weekend.
The Gilles—about 800 men and boys—wear suits stuffed with hay and decorated with appliqued rearing lions, crowns, and stars in the Belgian colors of red, yellow, and black. Heavy bells hang at their waists, and their headdresses—four feet tall and weighing up to seven pounds—are topped by ostrich plumes. In the early morning, the Gilles wear masks with green spectacles and orange eyebrows and moustaches, but these are doffed later in the day when the ostrich headdresses go on. The rites start at daybreak when the Gilles gather in the main square of Binche. To the beating of drums, they march and dance through the streets, stomping their wooden shoes and pelting spectators with oranges. Fireworks at midnight officially end the carnival, but dancing often goes on until dawn of Ash Wednesday.
The most accepted legend explaining the carnival traces its origins to a fete in 1549. Spain had just conquered Peru, and Mary of Hungary, regent of the Netherlands, gave a sumptuous reception at her Binche palace for her nephew, Philip II of Spain. Supposedly, the costumes of the Gilles are patterned on the wardrobe of the Incas, and the thrown oranges represent the Incan gold. A document from 1795 is the earliest to describe the mask of the Gilles.
Some people have suggested that the English word "binge" comes from Binche.
CONTACTS:
Belgian Tourist Office
220 E. 42nd St., Ste. 3402
New York, NY 10017
212-758-8130; fax: 212-355-7675
www.visitbelgium.com
SOURCES:
BkFest-1937, p. 38
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 34
FestWestEur-1958, p. 6
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 133
IntlThFolk-1979, p. 44