Binche Carnival Guide – The mythical Gillies creatures chase away winter!

Binche Carnival takes place for three days before the start of Lent and has been recognised by UNESCO for its cultural significance.

23rd February 2020

25th February 2020

Days to start

Le Carnaval de Binche or the Carnival of Binche is one of the most famous celebrations in Belgium and one of the oldest and most unique carnival celebrations around the world. Because of its originality and its long tradition, the festival was recognised by UNESCO in 2003 as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.

People from all over the world flock to see the amazing Binche Carnival and for the local people of Binche taking part in the carnival is an important part of their culture.

Where is Binche Carnival?

Binche is a tiny Walloon town located in the Belgian province of Hainaut that has a population of around 33000.

When is Binche Carnival?

Binche Carnival

The Binche Carnival is a pre-Lenten carnival that occurs the three days prior to Ash Wednesday the first day of Lent. The 2020 Binche Carnival dates begins on Sunday 23rd February until Tuesday 25th March.

What is carnival in Binche?

The Binche Carnival is a pre-Lenten carnival and a folkloric event that has come from a long oral tradition that existed before written record and is based on oral folklore that gives the participants the feeling of pride and uniqueness.

Virtually nothing has changed about the carnival across the centuries. The dress, customs, rituals or reception are as old dating back to pagan traditions. Binche’s Carnival is an enchanting event that has been capturing our imagination for centuries.

What is the history of the Binche Carnival?

Why is the carnival of Binche celebrated? The history of Binche Carnival is still unknown some speculate that the carnival was related to a parade organised by Mary of Hungary for her brother Charles Quint in 1549. She lived in a castle whose ruins are still located in Binches city centre.

Whatever the case the festival is closely related to Catholic Easter celebrations that occur before the onset of Lent. The Binche Carnival celebrations are so important in Belgium that they will spend an entire year preparing for them.

Gilles

Binche Carnival

The main character of the Binche Carnival are the Gilles’. It is a real honour to be a Gilles and men will invest a lot of time and money to respect the old traditions. Gillies are clown like mythical creatures who can be characterised by their vibrant costumes, wax masks and wooden footwear.

Gilles appear mainly on Shrove Tuesday and there are up to 1000 Gilles at any one time. Gillies are primarily male and can range from 3 to 50 years old. Women also play an important role accompanying the Gilles and these women will usually be dressed in funny decorated hats that change each year. Gilles belong to different societies.

Although the first documented accounts of the Gilles dates to the 18th century, scholars are unable to pin point when exactly this folklore started. However, many urban legends have been created which surround the carnival in more mystery. We know they go back to pagan traditions that were about chasing out the winter spirits.

One of the more popular legends was created by newspaperman Adolphe Delmée who said that the Gilles were inspired and possible descended from the Incas that were imported by the Hungarian Royal Court back in 1548. While not everyone agrees on this being the origin of carnival story it is often brandished about to give Binche Carnival more legitimacy.

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Shrove Sunday

The carnival celebrations begin on Shrove Sunday when the Gilles, Peasants, Pierrots and Harlequins awake early to dress up in their costumes and parade around Binche accompanied by drummers. Every society wears a costume that is related to the theme and the costumes are usually prepared with great secrecy for several months and have often been inspired by pop culture, politics, other cultures or events.

Shrove Monday

Shrove Monday is all about the youth of Binche where they all parade from café to café with the viola and there is a huge confetti battle in Binche’s city centre. Costumed children make a friendship rondeau and there is a great firework display over the red lights of the Bengal fires while the sounds of drums fill the air.

Shrove Tuesday

Binche Carnival

After two days full of Binche Carnival celebrations and the town of Binche being filled with fancy costumes and music the Binche Carnival is ready for its most important and traditional day of the carnival which is held on Shrove Tuesday.

The whole town of Binche wakes up before 4am to ensure that the characters of the carnival are brought to life. The children transform into Pierrots, Harlequins or little Gilles while the older boys wear peasant outfit costumes.

This is the only day when the Gilles will make an appearance wearing their colourful costumes and wooden shoes and it is important to attach a straw to their costume to appear bigger. Gilles are not able to walk without a drum.

At 7am a champagne and oyster breakfast are eaten throughout Binche. What follows this is the societies dancing on the streets leading to the main square of Binche. Gilles perform some rituals and clap their sabots against the cobblestones which is done to drive winter out of the town.

At 3pm a procession will start during which every character performing in the parade will throws oranges at the crowd. You are very lucky if you can catch one as it will bring you luck for the rest of the year.

At 8pm every character in the carnival will band together to form a giant rondeau in the main square of Binche while they are surrounded by musicians who play carnival music. Bengal lights are lit up all around to enhance the atmosphere and you will see dancing shadows reflected on the houses around and Binche City Hall.

This officially symbolises the end of the carnival festivities. Binche Carnival ends with fireworks that finish light the words Plus Oultre which means ‘further beyond’ and loosely translates to take risks and strive for excellence.

Carnival of Binche 2020 – Program Dates and Events

Binche Carnival

Here is the 2020 Carnival of Binche dates and times of all the events to help you plan your event better.

Shrove Sunday – Sunday, 23rd February 2020

  • 9am: Disguised, violas and tambours Shows
  • pm: Carnival Procession starts at Eugène Derbaix Square

Shrove Monday – Monday, 24th February 2020

  • 10am: Youths parade accompanied by Viola
  • 11am: Confetti Battle City Centre
  • 4pm: Friendship Rondeau at the Grand-Place
  • 7pm: Firework Display at Eugène Derbaix Square

Shrove Tuesday – Tuesday 25th 2020

Dawn: Gilles, Peasants, Pierrots and Arlequins appearance

  • 7:00am: Champagne and Oyster Breakfast
  • 8.30am: Wax mask and City Hall Reception
  • 3pm: Procession and Rondeau at the Grand-Place
  • 8pm: Light Procession and Rondeau
  • 9.30pm: Firework Display at the Grand-Place

Highly Recommended! – Viareggio Carnival!

We highly recommend if you are already planning on attending carnival, that you extend your trip and visit two of the world’s best carnivals! Unfortunately, most carnivals take place at the same time, in the days prior to Lent. But Viareggio Carnival in Italy occurs not once, but five times in the lead up to Lent! So, it’s one of the only other pre-Lenten carnival’s in Europe that you can also visit!

And what is more fun then celebrating carnival once, is celebrating it twice! Viareggio Carnival is one of worlds most renowned carnival celebrations, and rightly so because this Italian town puts on a carnival that is like nothing else in the world! What separates this carnival from the rest, is their awe-inspiring floats! Viareggio Carnival holds the title of having the ‘world’s best carnival floats!’ No other carnival even comes close!

And at Viareggio, carnival is just icing on the cake! Because this carnival takes place in gorgeous Tuscany, one of Italy’s best regions! A region that is famous for its art, architecture, history, culture, picturesque landscapes, great food, great wine and the best of Italian hospitality, that you can enjoy while experiencing the magic of this carnival!

Read more about Viareggio Carnival here.

How to get to Binche Carnival?

Binche Carnival

The airport closest to Binche is Charleroi which is a small airport but has many connections to other European cities. It is also possible to fly into Brussels which is a much larger and better-connected airport. From Brussels you can catch several buses or trains. To get a quote for a flight click here.

How to get around Binche?

There are several free shuttles that are provided by the city of Binche that operate during carnival. It is also possible to get to carnival by bus and train. Get a quote for a rental car here. To rent a bike or a scooter get a quote here.

Where to stay for Binche Carnival?

Binche is not a large town so it doesn’t matter to much where you stay because it is very easy to make your way to the carnival. However, if you want to be close to the action stay around the Grand Place so you can walk to the carnival on foot. Remember to book early because this carnival attracts visitors from all over the world!

Check out some accomodation deals here.

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here. For a longer vacation check out Tour Radar for some cool trips.

Before you go!

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance! Never travel without coverage! Being protected on your travels gives you an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads!

 

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