The only non-heritage carnival in Europe
If it weren’t for the annual carnival, Binche, a small town in southern Belgium, wouldn’t be so famous. Since the Middle Ages, generations of Binche have invested a lot of time and money in keeping an ancient and unique celebration alive. It is precisely because of the local people’s unremitting respect and love for cultural traditions that the Binche Carnival, which originated in the Middle Ages, has been preserved “in its original flavor” and its historical and cultural value has been continuously improved.
Now, Binche attracts more than 200,000 tourists from all over the world every year. Binche Carnival became the only carnival in Europe to be selected as a UNESCO “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
Drive more than 60 kilometers southwest from Brussels, the capital of Belgium, to Binche. It was an ancient city with a small scale, and some historical buildings in the city center looked a bit dilapidated. The urban layout still maintains the characteristics of the Middle Ages. There are about 10,000 residents living in the central area, and more than 20,000 residents living in the peripheral area and the villages outside the ancient city wall. It’s usually very quiet here, like falling asleep. But every February and March when Carnival is celebrated, Binche becomes a sea of joy, with loud drums and music, and the whole city is full of vitality like chicken blood.
Lawrence Dewin, the mayor of Binche, told me that the Binche Carnival is spontaneously organized by local civil society groups, and each society will send a phalanx to participate. The total number of people has reached about 10,000. In order to have a better performance in the event, various associations are secretly competing, and most of them start preparations half a year in advance. Each club has a fixed bar as a meeting place, where they “secretly” discuss related matters, such as the theme of the phalanx, costume design, etc.
Six weeks before the carnival, the clubs rehearse formally, with participants dressed in costumes from the previous year’s carnival and dancing to the accompaniment of drum and brass bands. Sunday is the most intensive time for rehearsals. On this day, the 26 traditional pieces of music regularly used in the carnival will resound over Binche.
The finale of the Binche Carnival is the “Blood Orange Parade”.
An image of Gilles on display at the local museum in Binche.
The Binche Carnival lasts for 3 days, and the activities are different every day. It is a bit like a three-act play, but the climax is on the last day. At 3:00 pm on the first day, participants dressed in colorful and unique costumes and started a make-up parade with the accompaniment of the band. Dressing up as a woman is a highlight of the make-up parade. The exaggerated and witty costume designs made the audience laugh out loud. As night fell, the drums died down, and the makeup parade ended.
The next day is the children’s “world”, which can be regarded as the local “Children’s Day”. Starting at 10:00 am, almost all the teenagers in the city are dressed in festive costumes. Accompanied by the viola, they walk around the streets, yell, visit every coffee shop, and occasionally play a prank, and the laughter echoes in the air. At 11 o’clock, children from different “camps” had a confetti “war” on the street, throwing colorful confetti to each other, playing and playing.
On the third day, almost everyone in the local area got up before 4 o’clock and began to dress up. There are four main categories of images they dress up, namely “Giller”, “Sailor”, “Farmer” and “Joker”. In the local language, “Jile” originally refers to the foolish character in the performances of the Jianghu troupe, but it has long become the spokesperson of auspiciousness and happiness in Binche, and it is also the most iconic image of the Binche Carnival.
At 5 o’clock in the morning, Jill, the first place in each club, walked out of the house. Gilles wears a white kerchief and a traditional wax mask with bushy red eyebrows, green glasses and a raised goatee; Covered with straw, he looks muscular, with a thick back and a strong waist; a string of copper bells is hung on a colorful belt; he wears huge clogs on his feet, and holds a small broom made of willow branches in his left hand. Seeing Jill coming out, the drummer who had been waiting at the door beat the drum, and led Jill to go door to door to find other Jill in the club.
Around 7:00 am, the Jillers of the various societies gather to eat oysters and drink champagne. This is the traditional breakfast of the day. After the meal, everyone formed a circle, stepped on the drums and stamped the ground with their feet, danced the traditional Jill dance, and waved the broom in their hands, intending to drive away the winter and welcome the spring.
At 8:30, more than 1,000 Gilles walked into the city hall. A reception and award ceremony will be held here, and the mayor will award commemorative medals to those who have dressed up as Jiller for more than 6 consecutive years.
At 3 p.m., the most exciting moment of the Binche Carnival arrives. The “Blood Orange Parade”, the grand finale of the Binche Carnival, begins. Amid the sonorous and lively drum music, Gilles stepped out of the warm and cheerful Belgian folk dance steps. Suddenly, Giller threw blood oranges at the audience, and saw golden blood oranges flying in the air, and people cheered and stretched their arms to catch them. It is said that blood oranges symbolize good luck, and people who receive blood oranges or are hit by blood oranges will have good luck. I was also hit by a flying blood orange. Although it hurt a little, I was very happy and felt that I had hit good luck.
At 9:30 p.m., the lights were put on and the fireworks rose into the sky. Jiller took off his feather hat, formed a circle, and danced a cheerful “friendship dance” with the drums. The square was packed to the brim, the sound of drums and cheers was deafening, and the whole city of Binche was immersed in joy.
The origin of the Binche Carnival is still inconclusive, but locals generally believe that the Binche Carnival originated in the middle of the 16th century. In 1549, Maria, the sister of the Roman Emperor, held a grand procession in Binche to welcome her nephew Philip II, attended by court officials in colorful costumes. After the welcome ceremony, the locals liked this way of breaking the dullness of winter and celebrating with festive enthusiasm, so it was passed down.
Today, more than four centuries later, only ruins remain of the castle where Maria lived. The carnival held in that year has been preserved in the form of festival culture and has become an eternal cultural symbol of the medieval city of Binche. Gilles’ naughty and funny image has been sculpted and stands proudly in the center of Binche’s town square, becoming the second symbol of Belgium after Manneken Pis.
Throughout the world, many ancient cultural traditions have been lost to people’s memory over time. How did the Banche people keep the carnival to this day and make it one of the four famous carnivals in Europe with the same reputation as Nice in France, Cologne in Germany and Venice in Italy?
Belgian anthropologist Christel De Liege, who has long studied the Binche Carnival, said that only if it is not for profit can intangible heritage survive for a long time. The preservation and continuation of intangible heritage requires the centripetal force and enthusiasm of citizens.
Apparently, the Binche Carnival did just that. It is not a traditional festival for the purpose of economic benefits, free from the impact of modern culture, but through the form of festivals, it preserves the common memory of the Belgian people and narrows the distance between people. This is exactly the meaning of intangible cultural heritage.
In order to continue this traditional culture, the residents of Binche paid out of their own pockets. According to Didier Hongbo, chairman of the Binche Folklore Protection Association, there are 13 folk societies in Binche, 10 of which are Jiller societies. One of the daily tasks of the Jiller Club is to raise donations from the people of the city to maintain expenses such as band training, regular gatherings of club members, and provide subsidies to families who dress up Jiller.
”Binche Carnival does not sell tickets, nor does it need the sponsorship of any organization, but relies entirely on donations from the Binche people themselves,” Hongbo said.
The reason why the Binche Carnival can be “moved” almost “untouched” to today is also closely related to a set of strict regulations. Hongbo said that Jill’s costumes are mostly made by several local artisan families, and the families who dress up Jill rent them from them, thus ensuring the standardization and high quality of the costumes. The timetable of the carnival must also be strictly followed to show its solemn sense of ceremony. “We have a whole set of detailed regulations to make sure that every detail of the carnival is followed.”
Unesco’s assessment of the Binche Carnival is apt: “It is a genuine national festival in which the participants are spontaneous and willing to provide financial support. Committed to preserving the traditional music and dance of the carnival, as well as the production techniques of crafts, costumes, and props.”
“We have what other carnivals have in other places. The long history and originality are our exclusive.” Devin Without humility, he said, “Being proud of our own traditional culture, and investing great enthusiasm in inheriting cultural traditions, has long been melted in the blood of the Banshi people, and has become a distinctive feature that distinguishes the Banshi people from other people in other places. The Banshi people The dedication and efforts made the Binche Carnival tree of life evergreen, and the well-preserved Binche Carnival has also achieved the reputation of Binche today and the pride of Binche people. “There is only one Binche in the world”, which is not only Our words are our actions.”