The Binche Carnival: A UNESCO Historic Tradition

The small Belgian town of Binche is famous for its yearly carnival. And yes, it is simply called the Binche Carnival.

It is a three-day event held just before Lent each year, that is filled with vibrant characters, amazing costumes, and theatrics you won’t want to miss. It is such a unique even that it was event it was recognised by UNESCO in 2003.

If you have heard about the Binche Carnival, the throwing of the Oranges, the Gilles or any of the other unique elements of the festival then maybe you are intrigued to learn more.

Binche Carnival Timetable

The Binche Carnival takes place over three days – Shrove Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The exact dates vary each year.

There is a mixture of song, dance, and a variety of participants each day, with the final day being the most important with the appearance of the Gilles.

There are also fireworks on the second last and last day, so staying until late is recommended.

Origins and History

The Binche Carnival dates way back back to the 14th century and has been going ever since. It began as a series of pagan rituals but has since been attached more strongly to the days leading up to Lent. Over the centuries, it has evolved to include various elements from different traditions, with the most famous participants the Gilles only appearing in the 18th century.

The Colorful Characters of the Binche Carnival

Gilles at the Binche Carnival
Gilles at the Binche Carnival

Although the Binche Carnival runs over the course of three days it is on the third day that the most anticipated characters appear – the Gilles. They are renowned for their distinctive clothing, including masks, wooden footwear, and ostrich-feather headdresses that they wear during the later parts of the last day during the orange throw. Another interesting fact about the Gilles is that they are only men, and can be aged anywhere from 3 to 50 years old. Although there is no specific limitation!

Payans in Binche
Payans in Binc

But the Gilles are not the only characters that appear during the carnival, there are many others including the Peasants, Pierrots and Harlequins, which women are allowed to dress up as. The women are also known for wearing very special hats during the festival, perhaps to make up for their inability to be Gilles? Just a guess.

Orange Throwing

Orange throwing & Ostrich Plumes
Orange throwing & Ostrich Plumes

The Orange throwing is one of the most anticipated events during the Binche Carnival. It usually happens at 3pm on the last day when the Gilles carry baskets of oranges and toss them into the crowd as they parade around the streets. The oranges are considered a symbol of prosperity and good luck. And they are not meant to be thrown back if you get one. Unfortunately they have lead to some damage in the town in the past, so locals are well prepared when it takes place with their windows heavily protected.

Visiting the Binche Carnival

If you’re planning a trip to Belgium and want to see the Binche Carnival, I would certainly recommend it. It is certainly one of the most unique carnival events in the world.

To make the most of your visit, be sure to arrive early to secure a good spot for the parades and performances, especially on the last day. The limited accommodation in Binche can fill up quickly during the carnival, so it’s recommended to book well in advance.

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