DSCF0096.JPG Yesterday afternoon Dee, Wilf and I cycled along the river to Geraardsbergen for the Krakelingen. This is an ancient town rite, recently accorded UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status, involving a parade through the town, the swallowing of live fish by public dignitaries, and the throwing of 10,000 mini-doughnuts into the crowd from the top of the Oudenberg (for cyclists, this is the famous cobbled Muur van Geraardsbergen).

DSCF0114.JPG The Belgians do like dressing up and parading through their towns and villages. Just as with the parades of Giants in the summer months, we are struck by how seriously they take these events and how much fun they have doing so, how ornate the costumes are and how detailed the parade, how many people are involved from the very young to the very old, how the whole community comes out to support the event and how good-natured they all are, and how bizarre the premise.

DSCF0101.JPG The whole festival seems to be based on an eclectic mix of Celtic and Christian symbolism. The krakeling itself is a circular bread apparently symbolising the cycle of the seasons. The live fish are swallowed in wine. In more or less chronological order, the parade consisted of Druids, Celts, Romans, medieval lords, ladies and courtly entertainers, (un)holy choirs of monks and nuns, bourgeois grandees and dignitaries, accompanied by an enthusiastic drum, brass and xylophone band and a line of buglers.

Later we spotted hordes of DSCF0134.JPG little devils and snowmen (and at the end of the parade crowds of nuns, monks, Romans, Druids and Celts all jostling to get into the buses and out of the chill wind and drizzle). It was these late afternoon meterological circumstances that caused us to abandon our place just in front of the Krakeling platform and miss the fish-swallowing and doughnut-throwing episode. A bit like falling asleep and missing the last ten minutes of a film, only colder. Also we gave up any chance of catching the golden krakling (worth €750 apparently). We also missed the evening Tonnekensbrand, a ceremonial burning of a barrel to symbolise the end of winter and the return of life. But we took lots of pictures – here are some edited highlights.

DSCF1135.JPG There are, of course, echoes of folk festivals in other countries and cultures. The barrel-burning has echoes of Up Helly Aa, and the Wicker Man. There was something a bit Morris-dance-like about the medieval players. The banner for the festival shows a fish with a ring in its mouth – this is the central image of the coat of arms of Glasgow and it was very odd to find it at the centre of this Flemish tradition. I always prefer it when the bands play something in a syncopated rhythm, as march-rhythms remind me of flute and drum bands and in the end everything  sounds like the Sash. But the Belgians do these things on a hugely enthusiastic, inclusive and entirely good-natured scale. We also saw quite a large number of interesting dogs in the Krakeling crowd.

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