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14 Things to do at Aalst Carnival, Belgium

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The Aalst Carnival or Aalst is one of the most famous events of its kind in the world. This carnival has the particularity of being one of the most acid and humorous in the country, possibly the continent and the world. Everything related to the Aalst Carnival starts from humor, even jokes that had been directed towards the locals have managed to transform and become part of the festivities.

Like any event of large proportions, it contemplates a lot of elements. That is why we are here to help you a little bit about what you should do once you are in the city. If you are traveling alone, accompanied or even with children, there is no problem, because the Aalost Carnivals offer a lot of events for everyone. We recommend you to be prepared because the celebrations at the Aalst Carnival are not a game thing.

We accompany you to know everything you can do in one of the most satirical, humorous and controversial carnivals in the world.

 

 

What is the Aalst Carnival

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The Aalst Carnival is an annual three-day celebration in the Belgian city of Aalst, Europe. This celebration was once considered a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. However, due to a controversy over the use of anti-Semitic stereotypes during the carnival, this commemoration was removed. This carnival is considered highly satirical and acid.

The Aalst Carnival is one of the most satirical and humorous shows in Europe. Every year, official and unofficial guilds and groups work for months to build several themed floats for the big carnival day. These floats enjoy an incredibly strong, and sometimes black, sense of humor that has made the celebration in the city unique in its style. These floats are not only related to politicians and celebrities, but also to some social sectors and even races and religions. Everything is allowed during the Carnival festivities in the city and everyone makes fun of something that interests them or they simply find funny.

However, it’s not all parade. The city of Aalst also offers you many other entertainment options and other activities in which you can participate. We accompany you to discover the 14 things to do at the Aalst Carnival.

 

The Gilles of Aalst are inspired by those of the Binche Carnival

The Gilles of Aalst are inspired by those of the Binche Carnival

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14. Attend the Coronation of the Prince of Carnival

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The Saturday before Shrove Tuesday a big playful ceremony is held where the Prince of Carnival receives the keys of the city. The different members of the city council also integrate this ceremony and are part of the themes. The event also includes some games, music presentations, monologues and lots of jokes and fun.

 

13. Go to the Aalst Carnival Parades

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During the celebration of the Alost Carnival there are 2 main parades. The first of these parades takes place on Sunday. That is, it is the first of the whole celebration. The atmosphere of this parade is much more serious, as it is during this day that the scoring of the floats and presentations takes place.

Each of the groups are categorized by: Small, Medium and Large Groups. These categories are delimited by the number of members, being the maximum number of members for small groups 45, for medium groups 60 and for large groups 100. In addition, each grouping can be located in blocks A, B and C. These blocks have several members mixed, so you can find several groupings in the same sector or block. In addition, the sectors are rotating, members from A go to B, members from B to C and members from C to A.

The Aalst Carnival is a celebration to express events satirically

The Aalst Carnival is a celebration to express events satirically

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The Parades on Monday are much more relaxed, as during this day neither the groups nor the floats are judged. As on the previous day, all the official groups gather together. In addition, it also has other unofficial groups that join the party. This day is full of satire, floats, fun, music and dancing. Monday’s parade is much friendlier, allowing people to relax and fraternize with each other instead of competing.

 

The gremios or carnival groups have costumes, music and carrozas, regardless of whether they are small, medium or large groups. The smaller troupes generally have somewhat more humble presentations, but no less colorful or impressive. However, it is the groups with the largest number of members that perform the best shows. As each group parades down the street, they dance, dance and throw confetti. Each float has a free theme and can interact with the audience in any way they choose. In addition, each float has satirical and humorous elements towards some political figures or national or international public figures.

 

12. Watch the Broom Dance

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The Dance or Dance of the Brooms is probably the most traditional event of theAalst Carnival festivities. This ritual is a folklore ceremony that takes place on Shrove Monday and functions as a supplication to the gods for favorable weather and a good harvest. Likewise, the whole ritual is also considered a ceremony to scare away evil spirits. The dance consists of a kind of static march in which the participants animatedly move two small brooms in their hands. These characters have small bells that ring as they move. The entire presentation is accompanied by musical pieces from a wind and drum band.

 

When watching this dance, you will notice that the characters performing this ritual are quite peculiar and are known as Gilles, more specifically Gilles of Aalst or Gilles in Aalst. These characters were the result of inspiration by the Gilles originals of Binche. However, the characters have completely different characteristics. The Gille of Aalst has agolden mask with a black mustache, cheeks and red eyebrows; white costume adorned with patterns in yellow, red and black. In addition, in the presentations he has two brooms which he uses to perform the dances. Los Gilles de Binche has a mask skin-colored mask, which has mustache, sideburns and green glasses. In addition, his suits are gray with details in yellow, red and black. Both characters throw oranges after their performances.

 

 

11. Catching the Golden Onion

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Onions are one of the characteristic elements of carnivals. The image of the onion is due to a kind of pun with which the residents of Aalst are called. In addition, it is also influenced by the huge onion production in the city several years ago. The citizens decided to take these mockeries and make them a ssymbol of the carnival, which is why it is now always present.

Onion throwing is one of the most anticipated practices during carnivals. In this event, the prince of carnival and the committee members throw packaged candies the size of an onion from the town hall. People must tackle as many of the candies as they can, which have an identification number on each one. Each onion has a number allotted to it and this number is redeemed for a prize, which is usually a trinket. However, there is one onion that is coveted by all: The Golden Onion.

 

This onion is extremely particular, as the prize for tackling it is not just any trinket but a tailored jewel. Every year, the city offers the creation of the piece to a jeweler, which has a different theme each year. In addition, this unique piece is a commemorative jewel and can cost up to 1,000 euros or even more. This piece is unique, so you are not going to be able to get another one like it anywhere else.

 

The top prize of the Aalst Carnival Onions is a designer jewel

The top prize of the Aalst Carnival Onions is a designer jewel

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10. Attend the Award Ceremony

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On Carnival Monday, the formal presentation of theawards for the most outstanding comparsas or groupings takes place. After a thorough scrutiny process, the jurors give an award to the carnival group that had the best performance in the parade on Sunday.  It is one of the most important events, as the competition of carrozas, costumes and musical pieces on Sunday is taken seriously by the participants.

 

9. Go to the Winterfoor

The Winterfoor is an alternative attraction usually set up during carnival festivities. It is a mechanical amusement park mainly aimed at children. However, it also has some attractions for adults. In total, the entire enclosure has 110 mechanical attractions and several food stands. It’s definitely a must if you go with young children or are looking for some alternative fun.

 

The Aalst Carnivals include an amusement park

The Aalst Carnivals include an amusement park

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8. Take your kids to the Children’s Carnival

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If you go with children to the carnival, you don’t have to worry about anything, as they also have a special day to participate directly in the carnival festivities. The city organizes an event aimed exclusively for children under 12 years of age. The event features parades and plenty of playful games for children to play during the holiday season.

 

7. Participate in the Voil Jeanet

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Some people think of Carnival as the season of the break of normalcy, when the world is turned upside down and every rule, custom or concept is reversed. The mayor becomes a jester and the jester becomes the mayor, the rich become poor and the poor become the rich and finally, the man becomes a woman and the woman becomes a man. The Voil Jeanet has been one of the most unleashed traditions of the Carnival of Alost. Moreover, it has also been one that has been maintained for many years.

 

 

The event is about a costume conversion, so men dress up as women during Carnival Tuesday. This day is dedicated exclusively for this activity and the bulk of the population participates in this game. The purpose of the Voil Jeanet is not to personify the woman as best as possible, as in the case of the Drag Queens or travesties, but to caricature the image and make it unkempt, sloppy and funny. The attire of the men participating in the event includes the whole package: wig, makeup, dress, prominent bust and exaggerated backside. In addition, some men include baby carriages, bird cages and umbrellas.

 

During the Aalst Carnival a cross-dressing men's march takes place

During the Aalst Carnival a cross-dressing men’s march takes place

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6. Watch the burning of the Carnival Effigy

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On the last day of festivities it is customary to burn a large doll or Carnival effigy. This ceremony is known as Popverbranding. The Prince of Carnival is the one who must begin the burning, while people gather to watch the big event. This burning symbolizes theend of the Aalst carnival. Despite being a celebration, many with view it with some sadness, as there will be no more carnival festivities until the following year.

 

On the last day of the Aalst Carnival the burning of the carnival effigy takes place

On the last day of the Aalst Carnival the burning of the carnival effigy takes place

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5. Visiting the Float Workshops

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If you want to know the process of production of floats for the carnival, this is one of your best options for you. This event can also be adapted to your wishes, as you can simply visit the Carnival workrooms, visit the Carnival Museum or both. A visit to the workrooms is the ideal way to learn about the essential elements of the carnival. It is in these spaces that the groups work to get their floats ready for the big day. The groups work for months in these studios in order to achieve their goals for the design and construction of the floats. This guided tour lasts 1 hour and costs 30 euros.

If you want to see both the workshop and the museum, the tour is going to be somewhat longer, about 2 hours in total. The Carnival Museum is where you can learn about the history of Carnival, how it was and how it is today. Within these guided tours in the museum includes a short film screening. The complete tour costs 60 euros.

 

You can visit the Carnival Museum during your stay

You can visit the Carnival Museum during your stay

 

4. Attend the Photo Contest

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Every year, the carnival association holds a photography contest in which both professional photographers and amateurs can participate. Generally, the 10 best samples are chosen and prizes are awarded. In addition, a photographic exhibition is held for everyone to see the incredible works.

 

3. Try the local cuisine

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If you decide to visit the city during carnivals, you can’t miss out on all the food and drink the city has to offer. One of the breweries you can visit is De Glazen Toren, which offers a good amount of beers in 750 milliliter presentation. To taste the products of this brewery and many others, you can visit the Den babbelaer, one of the most famous establishments in the city.

 

2. Attend evening events

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If you thought that after the parades or daytime events were over, the city would go to sleep, well, you couldn’t be more wrong. After the main events, the city enters a new celebration mode. The very carriages and costumes of the participants transform and take on festive lights. The whole city goes into a total uproar, the church bells ring incessantly and the music trucks rumble the walls of the city.

All the streets of Aalst becomebig dance floors for people who dare to participate. The songs that enliven the festivities are generally parodies of popular songs, so you should be surprised if you hear the famous Despacito song, but sung in local dialect and talking about the carnival festivities. Everyone takes to the streets to participate, either directly dancing and singing or simply cheering all participants.

 

The Aalst Carnival parade floats are held from 1 pm until 9 pm

The Aalst Carnival parade floats are held from 1 pm until 9 pm

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1. See the sights

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Netwerk Contemporary Art Center

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It is an international center for contemporary art and, in addition, an independent cinema. The center handles the work of national and international artists within a program of exhibitions, performances, workshops and talks. In addition, the center has the initiative to develop and make artists known to the local public.

The Netwerk Contemporary Art Center offers spaces for local audiences, artists and cultural institutions to continually reinvent themselves in their own way in response to the diverse demands of the industry.

 

Sint-Martinuskerk

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This is the Church of St. Martin. The building is of gothic style which was completed in the late 15th century. Inside are some paintings, including one by Sir Peter Paul Rubens a well-known Brabantian artist and diplomat. This person is considered to be the most influential artist of the Flemish baroque.

 

Stadspark

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The Stadspark is nothing more nor less than the main park of the city. The city park was created in 1915 and was built as a recreational space with walking paths. In addition, it also features playgrounds and two fishing ponds. The entire park is home to at least 100 different tree species. The Stadspark is also the epicenter of various bird encounters, making it one of the quintessential sites for citizens who practice bird watching. Children also have specific spaces for them, with sports areas, toys and many other enclosures.