What to the what?
The Carnival of Aalst is the best known and biggest carnival in Belgium. As the name of the event gives it away: it takes places in Aalst. It last for a total of three days (although the real carnivalists, who participate in the parades, are working on their theme, carriage, clothes for a year), preceding Ash Wednesday. Since 2010, the carnival is recognized by UNESCO as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. As it’s mostly a street happening, good weather is needed! Or at least, no stormy weather. Because it happens that the parades get cancelled when it’s too dangerous to come out …
The Aalst Carnival has its origin in the Middle Ages. Cavalcades were held since 1851, but without being organized by the city council. The city council started organizing the Carnival since 1923 – and that’s the date from where they count the official editions.
Since 1953 there’s a Prince Carnival each year, selected out of a few contesters. He’s the one who “reigns the city” during the three days of Carnival.
Day to day
The Carnival starts on Sunday and ends on Shrove Tuesday. On Saturday evening before a humorous city council takes place, in which Prince Carnival receives the city key and local politicians are mocked with. The session is held in the local dialect.
On Sunday the great carnival parades passes by. I think it’s safe to say that this last from noon ‘till the evening… So bring food and drinks. And maybe a seat. If you want to see the parade from beginning to end that is. There are over 100 floats included in the parade. You have small, middle and big groups and in between there are also loose groups.
On Monday, in the evening, the prizes are awarded, based on the points given the day before –followed by partying on the town square. There’s also the yearly Broom Dance by the Gilles of Aalst, followed by the “onion throw” (Aalst is known as the “onion city)”. During the onion throw, Prince Carnival and some of the party committee members throw onion-sized candies from the balcony of the city hall – some of them include numbers who lead to other prizes, for example a golden onion.
On Tuesday you have the famous parade of the ‘Dirty Sissies’. In this parade, men walk around in women clothes with defined attributes: a bird cage, a herring, fake breasts, corsets, a fur coat, a worn umbrella and a stroller. I had to look up why on earth they would do this :-), but it has to do with the history of Aalst: the lower class was too poor to buy or make a beautiful carnival costume, and for that reason the men put on the old and worn clothes of their wives.
In the evening, the traditional effigy burning takes places to end the carnival event with a third night of celebration.
Pics or it didn’t happen
I’ve already been three times to the Carnival, the last three years but I’m not a real celebrator of Carnival. I’ve only really showed up the first day, for the parade. One time I’ve also showed my face the second day, in the evening. But to be honest… if you don’t live in Aalst, or you don’t know a lot of people there… I think you better stick with the two parades and the puppet burning (if you’re lucky enough to get on the town square).
The pictures below show you some of the carriage in the parade of the first day of carnival. Enjoy!