Under a blizzard of confetti, to the sound of Euro Dance anthems and marching bands, a man dressed as a monk is quacking and bashing you on the head with an inflated pigs bladder…One Small World is left scratching our noggin at Eastern Belgium’s festival of Laetare.
Set in the sleepy forested hills of Belgium’s Ardennes, lays the picturesque hamlet of Stavelot. A population of less than 7000 lives in this ancient Abbey town, where you can’t imagine a lot goes on, save the turning of the seasons and the rituals of a pastoral existence.
Yet even the quietest of towns let loose once in a while and for Stavelot that time comes during the fourth weekend of Lent, when the whole town becomes the stage for the regional carnival of Laetare.
Translating from Latin as ‘rejoice’, Laetare is a religious celebration long forgotten (or ignored) by a lay-Christian world. Laetare Sunday, on the liturgical calendar, traditionally marked a day of relaxation of the strict rules of Lent, to recognise that Easter was within sight.
And in modern day Stavelot they take that old-world mandate to enjoy themselves and run with it. Almost 40,000 people descend on the tiny town for Sunday’s grand parade, a snaking procession of dance, costumes and confetti cannons.
What makes Laetare stand out against a busy European calendar of town festivals is first, its age – 2014 is slated as the 512th iteration of the festival – and second, the iconic group of characters that take precedence in Stavelot’s carnival: The Blancs-Moussis or White Monks.
Dressed in a crisp white bedsheet, pillow case and wearing a mask that you’d expect to see peering in the bedroom window of a slasher flick heroine, the Blancs-Moussis have a satirical history that still doesn’t explain their outright creepiness.
As the Laetare parade comes to close, hundreds of these Children-of-the-Corn style monks come swelling down Stavelot’s streets, flinging confetti and wielding inflated pork bladders, all the while making wordless noises reminiscent of a duck farting.
It is both surreal and strangely enticing to be whomped on the head by a faceless man with a meat balloon. And this is not even in return for folklore promises of good luck or protection from the mischievous spirits, it’s just because they can.
And what more reason do you need than that?
Have a look at the image gallery below for a taste of this bizarre Belgian festival.
Festival: Laetare des Blancs-Moussis
Where: Stavelot Belgium
When: 4th weekend of Lent (30th March 2014, 15th March 2015, 6th March 2016)
Cost: €4 entry into town on Parade day. Free DJs in the Abbey courtyard all weekend.
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