May festivals: Belgium’s Kattenfestival

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By Karen Hartwriter

Article originally published on 18th April 2013

Learn about Belgium’s cat festival and make your own wriggly toy cats.

Group of cats

In Grote Market, Ypres, a rather cuddly celebration is being planned. And, although today this special festival of all things feline revolves around celebrating our little feline friends, its origins lie in rather more sinister goings on. The Kattenfestival’s roots lie in a 12th century Belgium tradition that involved the city jester throwing live cats from the Lakenhalle’s (large commercial market building) belfry. Cats were believed to be the personification of evil spirits and the ritual, which continued until 1817 was thought of as a sure fire way to get rid of demons

Thankfully, today’s version, which originated in the 1930s, uses toy cats – although they are still hurled from the belfry!

Now staged every third year, on the second Sunday in May, Ypres’ Grote Market transforms itself into a feline frenzy of all things cat-like. Cat shaped chocolates and marzipan treats fill store windows, and market stalls are full of cat themed merchandise. The main attraction is the Kattenstoet, a theatrical parade of giant cats – followed by the traditional cat throwing.

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