Binche Carnival tradition is one of the most ancient and representative of Wallonia. It is listed as UNESCO intangible world heritage and is the climax of their Carnival festivities. Mardi Gras is the only day when the Gilles (men dressed up in traditional folkloric Carnival costumes) put on their outfits adorned with heraldic lions, their wax masks, and fabulous feather hats.
In Binche, being a Gille is a huge honor. These men are only allowed to wear the Gille costume on Mardi Gras. Tradition also forbids Gille societies of celebrating outside of Binche. Carnival has its strict rules. In the very early hours of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the Gille day starts with his dressing : "habillage". This family ceremony is only attended by a few close relatives and very special guests.
Dressing up as a Gille is a specific process. A designated stuffer slides hay between the under shirt and the costume of the Gille until he gets pretty round. The wife of the Gille usually gets the privilege of pinning the collar, adjusting the ribbon, and the handkerchief around the chin. Next, the wooden shoes, the belt with hanging bells, and the wooden stick in hand. The Gille is now ready, happy, and excited for a long celebration.
Mardi Gras is drinking, marching, partying with the Gilles...
Later comes the "tamboureurs" (drummers), fetching the first Gille at home. The Gille may not go anywhere without a drummer at his back. Along with friends and relatives, they go from house to house to collect the other members of their society. This is called the "ramassage". At about 7 a.m., all the societies slowly start walking to gather in the center of Binche to the tune of the drums. They go to the Town Hall, wearing their traditional wax masks. There, the jubilee of the entitled participants is celebrated.
In the afternoon, during the procession, the Gille wears his impressive hat covered with ostrich feathers and offers the public hundreds of oranges. Don't be surprised if you see oranges being thrown as well. Other characters dance at the Gille's side : the "Paysans" (peasants), the "Pierrots" and the "Arlequins". But to be honest, the whole city is dancing and going wild to the tune of the drums.