Belgium is situated in Western Europe sharing its border with four countries. It is truly magical for spending the vacations and experiencing different festivals. Though it is a Christian society but they also preserve their ancient traditions and culture. Their rich history, customs, renaissance architecture and medieval towns always attract the tourists. They also follow some traditions mixed with other countries. They know how to host and celebrate a festival and how to enjoy it to the fullest. Whether in the summer or winter, Belgium always has something to offer. People go crazy for their drooling chocolates and waffles. So add Belgium in your list and enjoy the surreal magnificent beauty.
Carnival of Binche
One of the most famous festivals celebrated in Belgium is the Carnival of Binche. In 2003, UNESCO marked the events as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ for its originality and old tradition. The festival is hosted in the month of February or March (depending on the calendar)for three days in Binche city, a part of French speaking Wallonia. It starts on the Shrove Sunday. The true origin of this festival is not known. But it is one of the oldest street carnivals in this continent dating back since 14th century. The rich tradition is still preserved and celebrated wholeheartedly. Now the festival has become world famous and tourists from all over the world come to witness and take part of it. Preparations of the festival begin in advance for making the event successful and enjoyable. The whole city becomes busy with lavish costume making and rehearsals for music performances. The main characters of the carnival are the Gilles. Here to be chosen to take part as a Gille is a great honor. They spend a lot for the costumes, they use a hat made from white ostrich feather,which costs thousands of euros. The males starting from 3 years to old age are exclusively chosen for Gilles. There is a female version of Gille which is named as Paysanne. Their costumes are different. Pierrots and Harlequins are the other characters for in the procession. In Gille’s costume, there is apertintaille which is a belt with bells, a bundle of willow twigs to drive away negative things, wooden-sole shoes to stamp the ground to make it fertile, a basket of oranges which are thrown to the public and a special identical wax mask. Later the mask is replaced with the ostrich hat which is 1.5 meter tall and as heavy as 3 kg. To have a hunched back and puffy front they shove hay inside the costumes. The Paysanne’s costume is different in color. They accompany the Gilles. The Shrove Sunday is the starting day of the festival. On the first day people in different groups come out, wearing their colorful and bright same themed costumes inspired from famous characters or incidents. The colorful day is celebrated with music, drums, violas and processions. The Shrove Monday is the second day and totally dedicated for the young generation and children. Young people from different organizations wear lovely costumes and take trip around the town with music bands. Dancing and parties are everywhere in the streets, café and all the public places. Later huge confetti battles are organized in the city center and also in the Place Debrix church. For this day the church is converted into a piano bar. There also red Bengal fires and stunning fire work shows. Last day is the Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday which is the main attraction and most important day of the festival. The people start taking to get ready while it’s still dark. The Gilles come out dressed traditionally. The drummers always accompany the Gilles. There is a tradition that Gilles cannot walk without the sound of drums. At 7 in the morning, The Gilles gather to have breakfast with oysters and champagne including kids. Then while dancing they go to the main square. At the Grand Place they meet the other characters at 8:30am. The Mayor officially receives them. Many are honored with medals. The processions starts at 3 pm and more than 1000 Gillies start dancing with drums and violas. Champagnes are distributed and oranges are thrown from the procession. Celebration goes for the whole night with superb colorful lights and fireworks to end the festival. You can go to Binche from Brussels by train which takes only 1 hour. You can also stay in Binche but you have to complete the booking earlier.
Rock Werchter (June 27-30)
In the village Werchter near Leuven every year in June a music festival is arranged, which is named Rock Werchter. This is afestival for rock music, arranged since 1976. The festival received the Arthur award for best festival in the world at the International Live Music multiple times. It is capable of hosting 88,000 guests each day. At first it was held in two festival areas name as “Torhout-Werchter”. That time, it was arranged just for one day. But from 1999, the event takes place only in Werchter. In 2003, the festival was decided to be named Rock Werchter, and to be held for four days. The festival is hosted by Live Nation, an American Organization. Normally it starts from last weekend of June or July’s first weekend. This year it will be from 27-30th June, 2019. Many famous and popular artists came here to perform. Young talents are welcomed as well. Iggy Pop, U2, Ramstein, FlorenceThe Machine, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eurythmics and Metallica are the few well known bands who graced the stage.People here are very friendly, welcoming, fun loving and high in spirit. There are three stages in the show. The biggest and main stage is for the famous artists. Two other small stages are for the lesser known performers. In recent years the show is gaining popularity to the music lovers, tourists come here to enjoy the event. In the summer this is one of the largest festivals to visit. The weather is also great and the lighting and videos are phenomenal. There are also food and drink stalls for the visitors. The show is recently criticized for the rising ticket prices. There is also a camp site. If you choose for camping you need to pay extra fees. If you don’t want to camp, you can opt to stay in a hotel in Leuven. You can also come from Brussels by the public transport. But check the transport schedule earlier to avoid any confusion.
Christmas (December 25)
Like other European countries, Christmas is one of the most celebrated religious festivals in Belgium. This day is also a public holiday in the country. In the month of December, every town,village and city are adorned with lavish decorations, giant Christmas trees and colorful lights. The Christmas markets are the main attractions during this season with crafts and cuisine.Many gift shops and stalls are there for food, drinks, attractive gifts and other festive items. Though the country will be busiest and crowds will be everywhere, but you will have a unique experience. Belgium has three main languagesFlemish-Dutch, French and Germany. Each one has their own Christmas traditions. In Flemish and French culture it is believed that Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas is the gift-giver for Christmas. Here, 6th December is the traditional Saint’s Day for Nicholas. It is believed that the kids who are good and behave well are receiving gifts in the night of December 6th. The saint comes from Spain riding a horse carriage and bringing a sack full of gifts. Before going to bed children keep their shoes filled with small gifts, cookies or other treats for the Saint. They also keep carrots for the horses and some gifts for his companions. The kids open their gifts the next morning. Though they celebrate the gift giving tradition earlier, they still celebrate 24th and 25th December religiously. Sometimes they even exchange small gifts on Christmas Eve. Everyone will be spending time at home with their families. They laugh, drink and eat a feast together. You will find all the Belgian mouthwatering dishes and desserts prepared especially for the evening. Many people go to church, to attend the religious occasion. Next morning, they start the day with a big breakfast and open their gifts, which are placed under the Christmas tree. They relax the day, by meeting friends, taking a tour in the city and other attractive places and with foods and drinks.
If we got you interested in visiting Belgium throughout one of it’s amazing festivals, make sure to check out the German website from Backpackertrail, there you can find more general information on what to know before you start your trip to Belgium.
List of other major festivals
- January – Ghent Light Festival, New Year’s Day
- February – Carnival of Binche, Anima
- March – Chocolate Festival in Mons, Carnival of the Bears
- April – Art Brussels, Easter
- May – Holy Blood Procession, Brussels Food truck Festival, Labour Day
- June – Rock Werchter, Whit Monday, Battle of Waterloo
- July –Ommegang de Bruxelles, Tomorrowland, Independence Day
- August – International Biennial of Photography and Visual Arts, Flower carpet, Bombal Festival
- September–Belgian Beer Weekend, Festival of Wallonia
- October – Film Fest Ghent
- November – All Saint’s Day
- December –Christmas, Christmas Beer Festival, Boxing Day