It’s carnaval week! Time to break out the Belgian folkloric parades!
Carnaval (yes, it’s spelled with an a) is so important here that the kids are out of school for the entire week. Most SHAPE families refer to it as “ski week”, as so many people head to the mountains, but we chose to stay home this year to absorb some Belgian culture and to see just how much confetti one family can bring home in their hair.
We’ve had several local festivals to choose from but, as we hadn’t been on many mini day adventures recently, we went a little further away to a village about an hour from Mons called Ermeton-sur-Biert to check out their witch parade.
Unless you frequent Salem, Massachusetts, witches in the States are a strictly seasonal thing. Halloween is their time, then they go into hiding for the rest of the year. Belgium, though, likes to trot them out again during carnaval season. There are four towns that feature witches in their celebrations… Ermeton, Stambruges, Helecine, and Tilff, and each of these towns sent representatives to the tiny village of Ermeton for their parade.
The festival is dedicated to the four witch trials that were held in the village in the 16th century, but, you know, in a super fun way. The festival is, basically, witches (and their accompanying mother giant… can’t have a festival without giants in Belgium) parading through the town by the light of torches, stumbling upon the four witches dancing around a bonfire, the kids of the town capturing the witches, bringing said witches to trial, making them dance, then burning a witch effigy. Then lots of beer.
During the pre-parade drinking, someone made an announcement that, should any kids want to join in, there were costumes available. That sounded like a good idea to my two. So parade watching turned into parade participation and off they went to be dressed by the local town witches in the traditional costumes and face paint.
Then, as the sun set, the parade began. The witches (“macrales” in the old language of Walloon) and giants set off to parade through the village, toss confetti on spectators and try not to light each other on fire with burning torches. The witches from Stambruges wear a huge headpiece made entirely of straw, a bit dangerous around lit torches, but no one said a word. There was an announcement on the poster that warned against children carrying torches, but that didn’t really stop them. Only in Belgium.
And that’s just the beginning. Next up? The Carnaval de Binche.