Cat Parade, Ieper
Cat haters must love the Kattenfestival which has it's origins in the 12th century when they would throw live cats from the Cloth Hall belfry, hope they hadn't cashed in on all of their 9 lives yet! Cats were thought to be evil spirits, I do too sometimes when they are hacking up hairballs on my carpet, and this ritual continued until the shockingly late date of 1817.
PETA will be happy to know that they now only throw stuffed cats from the belfry when they hold this festival every three years in May. The last one was in May 2006 so you'll have to wait until 2009 if you want to attend this festival.
Battlefield daytours and the Fancy Fair in March.
The Fancy Fair is in March a lot of space next to the cloth hall is available - The cat parade in the month of May due to the almost better weather conditions.
Ypres: the historic '14-18' front town is also a triennial meeting place of bubbling cat folklore. (next 41 th edition May 2006)
A local custom in Ieper - trowing cats from the Belfry - a festivity in May
In the middleages it was a habit to trow living cats from the Belfry. Those cats were symbol of the reincarnation of a bad spirit, the evil. So they had to die. ( habit since 1400 till 1800)
Untill now it is still a tradition (no living cats ! anyway those animals have 7 lifes)
Only in 1938 the old relation with cats came back, this time in a little more animal friendly way. Slowly the city and it's citizens organised a festival that would grew out to be one of the biggest parades in belgium: the "Kattenstoet". On the 6th of March 1955 this parade was breaking through with ten's of thousands in visitors. Year after year, enormous efforts were done to make a new specatcular parade, which in present times became so expensive, that the city decided to only have the parade once each three years. The next will be in 2006. Dozains of parade wagons, giants, 1500 actors, drumbands and dancing groups.
The traditional throwing of cats from the Belfort tower is now-a-days alos returning, except ... it's the town's fool that is throwing cuddly toys in the form of cats down to the Market Square. Ieper is and stays the town of the cat!
Completely sure where it came from, no-one is, but cats and Ieper have a very special relationship. In early medieval times, the cat was a symbol of bad spirits. It was not one itself, but always predicted disasters and mischief. The Germanic tribes sacrificed cats to keep evil ghosts away. Christians saw them as a sign of the devil or witchcraft. In short, cats were not that popular and were not welcome anywhere. In Ieper they had a rather original way of getting rid of cats that were found. They were simply thrown from the Belforttower. This even became a tradition and kept on going when it was already abolished everywhere else. Until 1817 it happened then and again. One then said, oh, but it doesn;t hurt the cat ... they always land on their feet.