Belgians love a good party. Even the tiniest villages have some sort of annual celebration. Throw in a parade, live music and of course a good helping of Belgian beer and you’ve got yourself a Belgian festival.
It seems like every weekend there is a festival going on somewhere in Belgium. The themes can range from the expected — jazz, art and cultural festivals — to the tasty, such as the chocolate festival in Bruges.
Then there are the downright strange: the rugby and beer festival, the cactus festival and (something I have vowed to check out this year) The International Regatta of Bathtubs.
The Bathtub regatta, it seems, was dreamed up as a marketing stunt to attract visitors to the town of Dinant in August. A flotilla of highly decorated bathtubs makes its way (or not, as the case may be) down the Meuse River, to the delight of onlookers. This sounds like good times to me!
Last weekend, my festival sights were centred on Ypres and the 41st Kattenstoet — the Cats Parade.
This celebration of all things feline happens every three years and is attended by cat lovers from around the world.
The Kattenstoet seems like the ideal festival for cat fanciers like me. Its medieval roots however are more sinister and would surely have protesters storming the town.
During the middle ages the Grote Markt would be overrun with stray cats by the end of its annual fair. The court jester would gather up as many of the cats as he could and throw them from the belfry to the cobbled square below (undoubtedly to the delight of bloodthirsty medieval peasants).
These days, the jester tradition continues with fifty stuffed toy cats being thrown into an eagerly awaiting (and only slightly less bloodthirsty) crowd.
The parade itself celebrates cats throughout history and around the world with a huge array of floats, ending of course with the mainstay of all good Belgian parades — a handful of giants.
Face painters must be in huge demand in Ypres on the morning before the cat parade. Everybody gets into the spirit. There are cats (or cat wannabes) of every shape, size and colour. There are cat bands, cat dancers and cat acrobats. There are also mice, rats and a bevy of cat worshipers and cat haters throughout history.
Of course, you can’t have cats without witches. Also harkening back to its medieval ties, the festival has a witch burning in the square after the throwing of the cats. I didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to stick around to witness that part of the festival. In the middle ages an outspoken woman like me with four cats would be a goner for sure.
If you missed the cat festival this year, you’ll have to wait another three years for it to happen again. Don’t despair though; you can meet me on 15 August in Dinant for the Bathtub Regatta.