In late February, the city of Geraardsbergen (around 1-hour drive west of Brussels) in the Flemish Ardennes holds a symbolic farewell party for winter. The Krakelingen & Tonnekensbrand festival begins in the afternoon with a historic procession that departs from the church of Hunnegem and continues through the city. All participants wear historical costumes and carry wine, fish, fire and krakelingen. The latter is a special ring-shaped bread that is baked once a year for the festival.
The crowd partly disseminates at the foot of the Oudenberg Hill, with a few thousand participants continuing the climb up the hill as they march to the Holy Mary Chapel. In the Chapel, the dean blesses the bread, and 10,000 pieces of krakelingen are thrown to the crowd. One bread contains a piece of paper and the lucky one who finds it receives a golden krakelingen—a piece of jewellery designed especially for the feast.
The festivities continue until the evening when the time comes to climb the hill again. On top of the hill, citizens set a wooden barrel—Tonnekensbrand—on fire and light torches to bring fire back down to the city. It is through this process that locals celebrate the beginning of spring.
Krakelingen & Tonnekensbrand has a long history and holds its roots in the 14th century. The feast is a vivid example of how the community cherishes and transmits its traditions. Since 2010, it was recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Krakelingen & Tonnekensbrand is celebrated on the penultimate Sunday before the first Monday of March. That first Monday in March is when the annual fair takes place in the city.