Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Mardi Gras at Binche (Belgium)

The "Gilles" of Binche

Pictures from Le Soir

Since the 14th century, the town of Binche has celebrated the arrival of spring each year through its carnival. It is the only opportunity for the people to see a procession by the “real” Gilles, who are famous for their costume and for throwing oranges.

The town of Binche, in the centre of Hainaut province, has remained unwaveringly faithful to the centuries old tradition of its carnival. This popular gathering celebrates, symbolically, the return of spring. The “Gille” is the central character in these festivities. He embodies the soul of the people of Binche.

There are many legends which attempt to explain the birth of the “Gilles” of Binche. The most famous mentions a carnival-like ceremony organized in 1549 by Maria of Hungary in honour of her brother Charles V and his son Philip II of Spain. To celebrate the recent achievements of the Spanish conquistadores, courtiers travelled in procession disguised as Incas. A variant of this legend claims that real Incas were present. The population of Binche, fascinated by the costumes, then adopted the habit of holding a procession each year with the same type of costume.
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