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Aalst Carnaval 2024

Satirical and colourful celebrations for Mardi Gras

Dates: February 11–13, 2024

Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval
Aalst Carnaval

Every year, the streets of Aalst in East Flanders (less than one hour drive from Brussels) get swept off with the carnival. For the three days preceding Ash Wednesday, the entire city lives in the rhythm of a never-ending party. The first signs of the carnival appear on Saturday. In the evening, a humorous city council hands over a key from the city to a mock Prince of the Carnival.

Carnival Parade

On Sunday, the celebration officially begins with a parade through the city. Locals prepare and carry up to one hundred floats while thousands of people in masquerade costumes dance on the streets. The entire event ridicules local and foreign politicians. The parade starts at 1 pm and lasts for almost five hours. The epicenter of fun is Grand Market Square.

Broom Dance

On Monday, the Gilles show their traditional Broom Dance on the Market Square—a ritual that chases away the ghosts of winter. Meanwhile, a mock Prince and his committee initiate a so-called “Onion Throw”: they throw onions to the crowd from the balcony of city hall. One hundred onions contain winning lottery numbers with the main prize being a golden onion.

Parade of the Dirty Sissies

On Shrove Tuesday, another parade occupies the streets of Aalst—the Parade of the Dirty Sissies. Men get dressed in female clothes, put on fake breasts, and use various accessories—corsets, broken umbrellas, fur coats, lampshades, and birdcages with smoked herring. The celebration reaches its culmination when a huge puppet—the carnival effigy—is set on fire on the Grote Markt in the city center.

The Aalst Carnival is related to the Binche Carnival but only in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. It has deep roots in the pagan end-of-winter celebrations. The first records of the carnival date back to 1443. It has existed in its modern form since 1851 when it was held unofficially. The first time the carnival was organized by the city council in 1923. Since then, a special carnival committee has taken care of the Mardi Gras festivities. Also, since 2010, the Carnival in Aalst has been the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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Last updated: by Dari Vasiljeva