Beans mean kings
For the Fête des Rois (Festival of the Kings) on Epiphany (6 January), pâtisseries across the land produce an almond-flavoured cake called a galette des rois, with a ‘fève’ (literally a bean, but now a plastic bean or a little porcelain figurine) baked into it. Whoever finds the fève in his or her slice is crowned with the accompanying crown made of gilded card.
Love is in the air in Mons during the second and third week in February, with the Festival International du Film d’Amour (International Love Film Festival). Held annually since 1984, close to St Valentine’s Day, the programme presents dozens of selected films, shown in and near the city centre.
Farewell to winter
Shrove Tuesday (February or March) is the high point of many pre-Lenten carnivals in Belgium, the most famous of which is at Binche, 15km east of Mons. Here the processions and rituals are attended by hundreds of ‘Gilles’ in their neat, colourful and wonderfully bizarre uniform resembling a jester’s motley – time-honoured traditions now on the World Heritage listings of UNESCO.
Easter (March or April) is a time for Belgium’s first-class chocolate makers to produce wonderful chocolate eggs, plus chicks and bunnies and everything traditionally associated with this spring festival. On Easter Sunday children hunt in the garden for chocolate eggs hidden, supposedly, by the ‘Bells of Rome’.
St George slays the Dragon
Trinity Sunday (31 May 2015, 22 May 2016, 11 June 2017) marks the culmination of Mons’s biggest annual festival, the Doudou (Ducasse) de Mons. In the morning a huge procession in medieval costume accompanies the holy relics of Saint Waudru around the city (a tradition dating back to 1349), followed by a mock battle between St George and the Dragon in the central square.
Midsummer Night’s Fire
The Feast of St John the Baptist (23 June) and midsummer is traditionally celebrated with fire and bonfires. In Monsa festival called Les Feux de la Saint-Jean (The Fires of the Feast of St John) takes place in the last weekend in June, with a torch-lit parade through the city streets and music in the Grand-Place.
Music among the stones
On Sundays throughout July a series of organ recitals, called Les Collégiades, take place in the Collegiate Church of St Waudru. The resonant acoustics of this soaring Gothic building invite reflection on Mons’s deep historic roots, and the central role of the church’s original sponsors, the powerful Canonesses of St Waudru.
The tanks are coming!
The name says it all: Opération Tanks in Town is a festival of historic tanks, armoured cars, jeeps and trucks, which invade the city centre for a weekend in late August (or early September).
Get lucky with heritage
A weekend in mid-September is always set aside for the national Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days), which offer access to various historic buildings in and around Mons that are not usually open to the public, plus special themed tours. Ask the Tourist Office for details.
Do you want to know a secret?
The second or third Saturday in October is set aside as ‘Beatles Day’ in Mons, with tribute acts, exhibitions and stands selling memorabilia – an annual event since 1988.
Day of the Dead
Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) on 1 November is a national holiday, and the following day is the Jour des Morts (Day of the Dead). On these days the Belgians remember their dead and visit the family graves. Florists sell pots of chrysanthemums for this purpose, and cemeteries glow with their soft autumnal colours.
Christmas lasts a month in Mons. From the first week of December – which includes the Fête de Saint-Nicolas (Feast of St Nicolas) on 6 December, as important as Christmas Day – to the first week in January the Grand-Place fills with a Christmas market, skating rink and staged events. This programme is called Mons ‘Coeur en Neige’ (Mons ‘A Heart made of Snow’).