Once every three years, the Kattenstoet Festival is held in Ypres, Belgium. May 3rd 2012 will see the 43rd rendition of Kattenstoet an all-out feline frenzy with costumes, parades fireworks and one or two obscure traditions that you’ll have to see to believe.
The legend behind this festival originates from centuries back when Ypres was at the centre of Europe’s wool trade (the town’s cloth hall was used to store the year’s harvest). Since this stockpile attracted rodents, the townsfolk of Ypres would gather cats to prevent the damage to their livelihood. However, once the year’s wool was sold, there was an excess of cats. Supposedly the task of ridding Ypres of moggies fell to the town jester who would throw them from the belfry.
The killing of these cats was also seen as a symbolic exorcism of evil spirits since they’re so frequently associated with witches. The annual culling of kitties ceased in 1817, and since then the people of Ypres have drastically changed their treatment of cats.
It’s a strange twist that now Kattenstoet has become a celebration of felines. On this day the people of Ypres revere them, dressing up like cats, witches and jesters. Decorated floats parade through the town with fireworks come sunset. Plush cat dolls are still thrown from the belfry by a jester to keep with tradition, and there’s also a pretend witch burning and fake cat and dog fight.
Since this event is only hosted once every three years accommodation fills up fast so make your bookings early. You can purchase tickets from their website. They cost €14 per head, and festivities start at 11am and last through to 7pm.
Kattenstoet is a light-hearted and time for a bit of general silliness, excellent fun for the family and cat lovers alike.
Ypres is about the same distance from the Belgian port town Zeebrugge as it is from Calais. P&O Ferries can get you to either in time for Kattenstoet.
Image credit: R/V/DV/RS