We went into the city center yesterday to join fellow Gentenaars for the annual New Year’s Drink (Nieuwjaarsdrink), a celebration of, and toast to, the new year. This event is hosted by the city itself and led by the Mayor. You can read local news coverage of it at this link.
It dawned on me while I was there that I should blog about one fact that I have learned to be true in my time living here … Belgians know how to party!
Not only do they know how to party well, they do it often. Feesten (parties, festivals, or celebrations) are held often by villages and cities, large and small. Our small village alone hosts two carnival parties a year. Gent is home to countless events, but is very well-known for its 10-day long summer party, Gentse Feesten, and the winter festival, Gentse Winterfeesten.
Sometimes, these celebrations include parades. We have been to one parade in Koksijde-Oostduinkerke that celebrated the local world-heritage-recognized Paardenvissers (shrimp fisherman on horseback). That’s on my list to blog about someday!! We attended another festival, Krakelingen in Geraardsbergen, last year, that is centuries old. It involved a parade, local officials drinking fish, the tossing of bagel-like baked goods into the crowd (one carries a big prize), and a bonfire.
We hope to attend the annual parade in Mons that celebrates the Mons dragon, and also one in Ypres that celebrates cats (despite its history of tossing live cats from the bell tower – that stopped long ago!). And of course, there are famous Carnavales in Binche and Aalst, to name a few.
Point being, for a small country, Belgium is host to a lot of official parties. And from what I have seen, Belgians can make a fun and lively party out of pretty much any get-together. Belgians enjoy relaxing, spending quality time with friends and family, eating well, and drinking good spirits. Music is seemingly always involved in gatherings, be it live bands, stereo-blasted recordings, or just a bunch of people singing together. Our next door neighbors are really good at that!
One final trait I admire is their ingenuity in party preparations. Yesterday’s event was in an open square by Gent’s city hall. It was standing room only, but that didn’t stop party goers from creating their own party spaces, complete with folding tables (or even more brilliant, ironing boards – so portable!) and picnic supplies. It reminded me of tailgating for college football games in the U.S. Well played, my Belgian neighbors!
I guess it should come as no surprise that residents of a country that is most well-known for its beer, french fries, waffles, and chocolate would be good at partying. Cheers! and Sante! to that, Belgians, and party on!