The Ducasse de Mons, affectionately knows as the doudou. Technically it’s a weeklong event including military band concerts, a religious procession, nightly drinking (of course), fireworks and a dragon battle, naturally. To prepare, Mons gets all dressed up in red and white.
The main event for the week is Le Lumeçon, or the battle between St. George and the dragon. Here’s a little history…
In 1349, the plague hit Mons. The powers that be decided to organize a procession of the relics of St. Waltrude through the town to see if that might help. Miracle of miracles! That did the trick. So, evidently, even in the 1300s, the Belgians loved a good religious spectacle so they carried on, year after year, only stopping for the French revolution and the two world wars. Which were caused by the procession, or so legend has it. See, if the golden chariot that carries the relics doesn’t make it up the cobbled hill on it’s way back to the church in one go, the town will be struck by misfortune. It has only happened twice. Once before World War I and once before World War II. We kept our fingers crossed, if only to keep Ben’s job from getting harder, as he works for the General in charge of NATO.
Now, sometime around 1380, someone added a battle between St. George and the dragon, who represents the devil. Something to do with the devil leaving the church once the relics are brought back in. I’m a little iffy on those details. So, the dragon escapes the church and heads down to the Grande Place where St. George and his buddies defeat the dragon, not with his spears or his sword, both of which fail him, but with a pistol. A gun. What? That can’t be right, can it? Now, I have to admit I had to look it up, but the first handguns, at least in England, were known to be used in 1375. How about that? Still, killing a dragon with a gun seems like cheating.
So, the dragon goes down and everyone yells, “And the people of Mons shall never perish… as long as they have beer!”. No, I just made that last part up. They do yell about the not perishing part, though.
So, as it was my first doudou, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I knew about the large crowds but I didn’t know it was going to be THIS big. Luckily, Ben works for the NATO bigwig so we got tickets to watch from town hall with Ambassadors and national ministers of this and that, and the Mayor, who is, like, 16 years old, and the Prime Minister, so I got to add to my PM sighting count. And I am so happy to have seen it from above because this is what was happening down below.
So this is what is going on. There are guys dressed in black who are the little devils. They taunt the guys on the fake horses that look like cows, dance around and hit each other with pig bladders. Don’t ask. The guys in white support the dragon. The guys in green and ivy, yes, real ivy, support the tail. The need to be the strongest of all as they have to pull the tail out of the crowd. The end of the tail is made of horse hair and getting a handful of it is good luck. There is also a guy on a horse. He’s St. George and it’s his show.
So for about 30 minutes the dragon does circles around the arena, tossing his tail into the crowd. This is the chaos that follows each tail toss.
Check out the bloody face on the guy, top center-right. And he’s still going for the tail.
I’m pretty sure all of Mons and the surrounding towns was in the Grande Place. The police are in with the dragon, too. They are the guys wearing dark blue with white hats and belts. Their job is to pull people out of the crowd before they get crushed. And there is a constant stream of people being saved.
Bonne Ducasse to everyone!
So, Mons has been saved from peril for another year. And the people of Mons shall never perish!….
Unless town hall is eaten by a big stuffed dragon.