Carnival Of Binche: Our Belgian Tradition

My little town in Belgium has a big celebration in February, the Carnival. Similar to the Carnival in Brazil, our is however different. I want to make you discover this tradition and maybe see you next year in Belgium to celebrate that with me.


Carnival of Binche 2020, official poster with the traditional mask wore on Tuesday morning. (Tabatha Menten/Lincoln Lion Tales)

The carnival of Binche is an event that’s celebrated on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a Christian celebration that marked the first day of Lent, six weeks of penitence before Easter. 

The origins of the carnival are unclear, but the most popular story about those origins, is that the citizens of Binche would have liked the costume that the Incans wore during festivities organized by Marie from Hungary (she had a residence in Binche at that time) in 1549 to welcome her brother Charles Quint and her nephew Philippe II. Since the 14th century, the carnival has been celebrated. It has also been recognized as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity listed by UNESCO. 

The festivities are beginning seven weeks before the “real” carnival. During those seven weeks, each Sunday, celebrations (musical acts, marching, dancing) are happening in Binche. 

The seventh Sunday, inhabitants are wearing the costume they wore the year before on the last Sunday. 

Carnival of Binche 2020
Costume representing Greta Thunberg
(Tabatha Menten/Lincoln Lion Tales)

On the last Sunday, Binche’s inhabitants finally wore new costumes (like Halloween here). This year the most original costume was probably Greta Thunberg. 

On Monday, it’s time for any kids to get dressed (Binche inhabitants and others). Also, a confetti battle is happening on Monday morning, and a firework on Monday evening. 

Finally, Tuesday is the most important day because it is the day when Binche inhabitants wore the famous costume named: “Gille.” To be one of them, you need to be a Belgian man from Binche or who have lived in Binche for 5 years. You can’t be a gille if you have participated in any other carnivals after your 18 years old. Don’t worry, there’s other costumes you can wear to participate in the Carnival such as Peasants, Pierrots and Harlequins.

In the morning, the face of the gille is hidden by a wax mask that they put down for the parade in the afternoon. During this parade they also throw oranges that are supposed to give you good luck if you catch it. The Carnival finishes by a big firework display on Tuesday at 10 pm. 

My experience

Each year, I am attending the carnival. Waking up at 4 am to follow a gille or staying up until 3 am because you don’t want to go home, I have done both. The carnival is hard to explain and I think the only way to really understand how fun it is, is to attend it. When you are younger, it is a wonderful time to spend with your family, having nice dinner and trying to catch the oranges together. Now, I spend most of my carnival with my friends dancing and drinking (the alcohol age in Belgium is 18 years old but the beer age is 16 years old). I really missed it this year and it was a pretty hard time seeing your friends having fun without you, but the experience I am living here worth missing one carnival.


Carnival of Binche 2020. Gilles wearing the traditional hat made of ostrich feathers.
(Tabatha Menten/Lincoln Lion Tales)

The carnival of Binche is a big party where people from all over Belgium (and the world) get the chance to spend time together. And if you don’t want to follow one of the gille society, you can always party in one of the numerous bars opened at that time. It’s located in Binche, a little town in the south west of Belgium. 

A few numbers…

Number of people wearing costumes on Tuesday: +/- 1000.

Oranges thrown by a gille : between 55 and 80 lbs. 

Number of people present this year: 30.000