On the 2nd Sunday of May, an unusual procession occupies the streets of Ypres (Ieper), a small town near the French border. The Kattenstoet literally translates to 'the Cat Parade' and it is fully dedicated to felines. It occurs once in three years.
The procession unites around 2,000 people in masquerade costumes of cats, mice, witches and sorcerers, cartoon and fairy-tale characters, etc. The majority of floats depict cats and reflect local legends and the history of Ypres. The most impressive participants of the parade are Ypres’ giants. Goliath, medieval characters, and male and female cats are among the giants that walk side-by-side with dancers and musicians through the streets of the town.
When the parade ends, the crowd moves to city hall (Cloth Hall). A city fool throws toy cats from the bell tower into the crowd. Later, a mock witch burning occurs: the crowd sets a puppet witch on fire. The fest continues with numerous concerts and performances around the town.
The first Cat Parade took place in 1938. What started as a small event is now known country-wide. Nearly 50,000 spectators join the celebration. The origins of the parade are not clear. There are numerous legends behind this tradition that date back to medieval times. The most popular version claims that during the Middle Ages, citizens used to torture and throw cats from the towers. Cats were considered to have some relation to witchcraft and the killing of cats equated to the destruction of evil spirits.