Header image via Stadleper Harold Naeye
On the second Sunday of May since 1955, an unusual procession marches down the streets of Ypres, a small town near the French border of Belgium. This, is the Kattenstoet. Kattenstoet literally translates to 'the Cat Parade' and it is a fantastic parade that is fully dedicated to felines. This unique festival occurs once every three years, and 2022 happens to be a festival year! To celebrate, we thought we'd share the interesting history behind this most extraordinary festival...
Image via Rostyslav Kudlak/Flickr
The parade commemorates a rather unpleasant Middle Ages tradition in which cats were thrown from the belfry tower of the Cloth Hall into the town square below. There are many different legends about why the throwing of cats originated. One possible theory is that because cats were associated with witchcraft, they were thrown from the bell tower to symbolise the killing of evil spirits. The last recorded event of this kind was in 1817. However, another story suggests that cats were brought into the Cloth Hall in order to control the mice and rats. It is thought that at the start of Spring, when the cats were no longer needed, they were thrown out of the bell tower. The last cat reportedly survived the fall and scampered off as fast as it could before it could be caught again. From then on until the First World War, Cats' Wednesday was celebrated simply by ringing of the church bells.
Image via Cedric Dubois/Flickr
The first Kattenstoet took place in 1938. What started as a small event is now known across the whole of Belgium, with nearly 50,000 spectators joining the celebration! The procession consists of around 2,000 people in masquerade costumes of cats, mice, witches and fairy-tale characters. There are also intricate floats depicting cats and other local legends as well as the history of Ypres. These giant characters walk side-by-side with dancers and musicians through the streets of the town. When the parade ends, the crowd moves to Cloth Hall where a city fool throws toy cats from the bell tower into the crowd. Later, a mock witch burning occurs where the crowd sets a puppet witch on fire, much like Bonfire Night in the UK. The festivities continue with lots of concerts and performances around the town.