Carnivals and bonfires in Walloony

Carnivals and bonfires in Walloony

Each year Carnivals liven up many places in Walloony. Each one with its own costumes and music. The time before Lent is the scene of colourfoul carnivals.
Bonfires are lit everywhere in Walloony at the end of winter. They are meant to purify and protect the community. Many of them burn ‘Winter Man’ to celebrate revival. The most famous one takes place in Bouge (Namur) where 7 bonfires are lit, which light up the whole valley.

Bonfires are one of our most ancient customs, that goes back to the dawn of time and has never faded because it still perpetuates today in our villages.
As you know, Celto-German peoples from the North purified through fire and celebrated the spring equinox (on 21st March) by lighting bonfires on the highest hills.
In the Middle Ages, masked Carnival celebrations took place in the Lent time (Latin “Quadragesima”, 40) that lasts from Ash Wednesday till Easter Day and on this occasion, each village lit its bonfire on the Sunday following Shrove Tuesday.
Depending on the community, the custom still exists in many different ways.
The celebration begins with wood collection.
The local festival committee, helped with the youth, collects wood and the ‘tithe’ in the village streets with carts, brass band and ‘strolling bar’. The ‘harvest’ is brought to a given place to set and light the stake.
A pole is pitched in the middle of it and a straw dummy representing ‘Winter Man’ is set on it. On Sunday following Shrove Tuesday, a mascarade procession walks through the streets of the village and at downfall they all gather around the stake.
The newly weds are asked to light the fire and when it blazes up, everybody dances around it on the music of the drums and the band until there is only a pile of red ashes left.

In Sprimont (near Aywaille)

The bonfire takes place at an essential period on the year: the end of winter, and so the end of the long evenings in front of the fireplace. It represents the beginning of a new season, a new cycle and the resumption of agricultural activities. Soil and men have to regenerate. The bonfire has a purifying and regenarating power. Tradition has it that the ‘macrale’ (a witch) is responsible for all excess and misdeeds humans are victims of.
She is going to be condemned and burnt on the stake. Then she would go back to the afterlife, reconstruct living strength and send it back to humans.
This tradition remains a privileged link with our past and our ancestors. It is an evidence of their life and thoughts. Giving this tradition a fundamental value today means reinforcing the union of our local communities and giving people a cultural identity.
A few weeks before these events, a tractor fitted with a trailer rides through the streets of Sprimont and in the neighbourhood. The ‘fire raisers-to-be’ put on it the Christmas trees and other resinous waste left on the doorsteps. This wood is brought to the Tultay plain and will be used to set the stake. On Saturdays preceding the party, the collected wood is placed around a fifteen meter high pole thanks to a grab.
On the big day, an army of volunteers put up the stands where various delights will be prepared and served: ‘pékèts’, beer, pancakes, glühwein, sausages, soup...
In the background, the ‘macrale’ adorns herself with her finest clothes to live her last moments.

The trial of the ‘Macrale’
As mentioned above, the macrale is responsible for all the illnesses and evils affecting the village, its inhabitants and even the neighbourhood: thefts, fires, misfortunes or calamities, political blunders... She’s got a lot on her conscience!! She’s said to be close to the sort of people (even famous ones) one shouldn’t associate with!!
She’ll be sentenced (in Walloon) for all her evils and noone doubts the sentence will be terrible: the stake! Presumption of guilt exists here!

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