Every Sunday between early May and late October, locals gather for folk marches (marches folkloriques) to honour the saints that protect their villages. Each village and small town in Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse, the region between the Sambre and Meuse rivers (the provinces of Hainaut and Namur), has its own protector. Some weekends will see only one village hosting a folk march, while other weekends may have 6-7 villages celebrating at the same time.
The celebration is similar for all villages. It begins in the main religious building which is named after a particular saint. After the morning mass, the religious procession walks through the town escorted by people wearing military uniforms. The procession is accompanied by the sounds of drums, fifes and traditional folklore songs.
The marches have taken place every year for centuries. Over time, participant dynasties have formed. For instance, one family might hold the drummer role while another might take care of the flags and costumes. Musicians pass their songs on, and craftsmen tell their secrets to new artisans—knowledge and traditions are transmitted from generation to generation.
Initially, the marches had purely religious meanings and were held to show the gratitude and worship of the villagers. But today, the marches have little to do with religion. Instead, these gatherings help locals preserve their history, traditions, and cultural identity. The importance of the marches is recognized by UNESCO: they are part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Some of the most popular marches occur in the municipalities of Gerpinnes, Ham-sur-Heure-Nalinnes, Mettet, Florennes, Cerfontaine, Thuin and Walcourt. For the complete program of the folkloric marches visit the official website.