Binche Carnival tradition is one of most ancient and representative of Wallonia. Its famous « Gille » has been fascinating people all over the world. The reputation of this Carnival is due to the original and authentic character of Binche traditions : it has always been held on the feast traditional days, and the preparation within the families and the carnival societies involved have merely changed for centuries (the preparation already begins before the winter).
These precarnivalesque performances are as important in Binche as the feast held on Shrove Tuesday. For the six weeks preceding the Shrovetide, the drums of the different societies are busy rehearsing. Their committee as well as the future « Gilles » audition the drums necessary to the festivities. Every Sunday of this period, they have their « soumonces », first with drums (dancing on drums only), then with a band. For the « soumonces » with drums, the members are wearing clogs and a belt with bells, known as « l'apertintaille ». For the « soumonces » with a band, a brass band joins the drums and the members are wearing parts of their previous year costume, generally the costume used on previous year Quinquagesima. The 26 traditional tunes are played all over the town. From 9 p.m., on the « Trouilles de nouille » Monday, the Monday preceding the Quinquagesima, the « beaux masques » get all over the town, alone or in groups. They go from pub to pub, trying to find a victim to intrigue. All the inhabitants of Binche play the game. They try to identify the teaser and have him keep quiet when it comes to embarrassing matters by offering him a drink.
On Quinquagesima, the future « Gilles », « Paysans » (peasants), « Pierrots » and « Arlequins » of the Shrove Tuesday are wearing a fantasy costume that was imagined months before and created by each participant in the greatest secret. In the morning, at 8 a.m., the drums go from house to house and fetch the participants. At about 10 a.m ., the small groups collected by the drums meet in the heart of Binche. It is the moment the inhabitants prefer, when they discover the marvellous and so original costumes « du dimanche ». Hurdy-gurdies or viols, along with the drums have them dance. At about 3.30 p.m., people gather in procession at the station area. The societies go back to the centre of Binche, dancing to the music of the drums and the brass bands, forming a living multicoloured ribbon. On Shrove Monday, the feast is traditionally more private, gathering the locals. To the tune of the viols and the hurdy-gurdies, they all go from pub to pub, and from pub to friends house ready to invite the viol, dancing here and there on the streets. At about 3 p.m., the youth gather. As the grown-up on the previous evening, the younger ones dance to the music of the drums and the brass bands. They offer oranges and get to the Grand' Place. There, in front of the Town Hall, they all dance in the « rondeau de l'amitié ». Then they leave to enjoy fireworks at about 8 p.m. in the station area.
Mardi Gras is « Gilles » Day.
In Binche, the « Gille » is allowed to wear his Gille costume on Mardi Gras only. Tradition also forbids « Gilles » societies to make a performance outside Binche. Carnival has its strict rules. In the very early hours of Shrove Tuesday, the « Gille » day starts with his dressing : « l'habillage ». This family ceremonial is only attended by initiates and a few invited close relatives. Later comes the tamboureur » (drum), fetching his first Gille at home. 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 centre of Binche to the tune of the drums. They go to the Town Hall, wearing their traditional wax mask. 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. Other characters dance at his side : the Paysans » (peasants), the « Pierrots » and the « Arlequins ». But to be honest, the whole city is dancing to the bewitchin tune of the drums. (c) Carnaval de Binche