Yesterday`s interviews revealed that Belgians are fond of laughing. It turns out that they are also big fans of partying, especially students. Their `party season` starts at the beginning of the academic year and ends.. at the end of it. The time between the end of the party season marks the beginning of a summer season, which is again full of festivals and local activities. A quick round up of the entire Belgian partying year:
Yesterday`s interviews revealed that Belgians are fond of laughing. It turns out that they are also big fans of partying, especially students. Their `party season` starts at the beginning of the academic year and ends.. at the end of it. The time between the end of the party season marks the beginning of a summer season, which is again full of festivals and local activities. A quick roundup of the entire Belgian partying year:
Caroline (22, photo) introduces me to local celebrations in Wallony, all of which invariably include drinking. Beer has become less popular over the last years, at the expense of stronger alcohol. Hospitalisations are on the rise, but the Belgians are nevertheless attached to their wealth of festivals, parties and celebrations.
`All Belgian celebrations at one point include drinking beer`
Saint John`s is celebrated at the beginning of March. In the centre of each village in Wallony, a big man made of straw is put on fire. The scene is supposed to represent a snowman and its disappearance into flames marks the end of summer.
At around the same time of year, carnaval gives rise to celebrations in a number of cities. Carnaval de Binche is the biggest celebration. During this day in spring, groups of people march the street in costumes filled with straw. They wear wooden shoes, masks and tall hats, and throw oranges to the audience. Carnaval in the village of Malm?dy (Cwarm?) involves dressed-up witches with tools that steal people`s legs away and force them to their knees. They then need to confess their sins. Stavelot has its parade of Blancs moussys, a group of people who wear masks with unusually long noses.
Sainte Marie (Assomtion) is celebrated in Li?ge on 15 August. Every woman named Marie will be given roses on that day. Like most celebrations in Belgium, Sainte Marie includes a big parade in town, this one with people dressed in black carrying a statue of Sainte Marie. Also according to the habits, the celebrations include free concerts in the streets as well.
Saint Nicholas brings sweets and presents for children. Students have found their own way of celebrating Saint Nicholas, as you can read below.
Marjorie (23) introduces me to the Guindailles, which altogether form the basis of student partying. Major events take place at the following occasions: beginning of the new academic year, arrival of the new first-years, 100-days before the exams start, Saint Nicholas, and the end of the academic year. At Saint Nicholas, students dress up in sheets marked with all sorts of stuff written on them by friends. They use empty pints to beg for money to fund their party. Surprisingly, they can expect to get some. Most people even prepare some change to give to the students.
Normal parties take place throughout the academic year, and always on weekdays. Belgium has a strong tradition of students returning home for the weekend, leaving student cities like Leuven (in Flanders) and Louvain-la-Neuve (New Leuven, in Wallony) almost empty during weekends. The venues selected to hold the parties are also of an unusual kind. The Tuesday and Thursday parties in Namur are for example called Le Buncker, because they are held in a big concrete building that could well serve as a bunker. Alternatively, students from Namur use public indoor car parks for their parties. Li?ge has student parties in tents, Louvain-la-Neuve usually holds them in the open air.
21 July is the National holiday. It officially celebrates the inauguration of Leopold as first King of the Belgians. Major event of the day is the military parade in Brussels, with planes producing the colours of the Belgian flags, and firworks lighting up the sky after sunset.
The southern provinces further celebrate la F?te de Wallonie suring the third weekend in September. On these days, church masses will be held in Wallon dialect instead of French, something that used to be common in the past but is no longer common practice today ? except during the F?te de Wallonie. Epicentre of the event is the Wallon capital of Namur, which for days in a row organises concerts and parades. The bands playing on stage are renowned ones, bands for which many people would pay 50 euro to go see their concerts. All over Wallony, the local liquor Peket is served in big quantities, and people in Li?ge eat Salade Li?geoise, which contrary to its name does not include salade, but is composed of bacon, beans and hot vinegar instead. It`s only one out of many examples of local food being an inevitable part of almost any public event.
Many public events in Belgium are free-of-charge and all of them together could keep visitors busy the whole year long. For those who are ready to pay to be entertained, the range on offer is even bigger. The summer season offers a wide choice of festivals of different music styles. They attract bands from all over the world, and, in the same way, also gather an international audience. Some examples: Dours, Werchter, Le Verdure Rock and Les Ardentes de Li?ge are mostly rock and pop. Francofolies de Spa celebrates French music. Esperanza in an abbey next to Namur hosts different types of world music, just like Couleur Caf? in Brussels.
For those who still fear getting bored, there`s some other festivities as well. Damien (23) tells me about the 24-hours of cycling which is organised in Louvain-la-Neuve. People prepare their bikes in random ways, decorating them with all sorts of fringes. The idea is not for one person to cycle for 24 hours, but for people to pass the bike to the next person after so and so many laps. There may be some teams that join for winning, but most are there for the party spirit. Namur has a similar event with skelters, only for 12 hours though. Li?ge organises its 24h tour of trotinettes, motorless scooters. And apart from that, there`s the official sports events, but those will be for another article. Just like the celebrations in the Northern, Dutch-speaking provinces of Belgium.
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