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Light my fire: Wallonia celebrates the end of winter by lighting giant bonfires

01:00 19/02/2017

Wallonia’s carnival traditions extend to chasing away winter spirits by burning giant bonfires. The biggest and most spectacular of them all is the giant fire of Bouge, overlooking the Mosane valley in Namur. Flames light up the sky in front of a crowd of thousands in a ceremony dating over 1,000 years. 

Folklore dictates that six other bonfires along the Namur valley are set alight before the fire in Bouge is ignited. If skies are clear it is possible to view all seven at the same time, which locals believe will keep bad spirits at bay all year long.

The pagan belief is that the burning ritual marks the end of winter, making way for the return of spring and the season of fertility and growth. In the commune of Bouge, a local brotherhood has been maintaining the tradition for the past 60 years. It starts building the bonfire in November, collecting fir tree branches and discarded Christmas trees, before lighting the blaze on the first Sunday of Lent. Atop the fire they place a symbolic figure of Don Juan of Austria, the son of Charles V who died in Bouge in 1578.

After an official sermon in the Walloon dialect and a procession of the brotherhood, festivities include flamethrowers and warming refreshments; mulled wine, local beers, pancakes and hotdogs.

Sunday 5 March, from 18.40

Other fires in Wallonia

  • 25 February, from 16.00, Aische-en-Refail (Eghézée, Namur province); Aisne (Durbuy, Liège province)
  • 4 March, from 20.00, Falisolle (Sambreville, Hainaut province); Orchimont (Namur province)
  • 5 & 6 March, Morlanwelz (Hainaut province)
  • 10 March, La Roche-en-Ardenne (Luxembourg province)
  • 18 March, Malèves-Sainte-Marie (Perwez) and Corbais (Mont-Saint-Guibert), both in Brabant Walloon province
Written by Sarah Crew