A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to author Roby Sweet. Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Coming Soon in Belgium: A Parade of Cats


The giant cat Cieper, seen here
in the 2012 Cat Parade.
By Zeisterre [CC BY-SA 3.0],

Mark your calendars, because something big is happening in the world of cats on Sunday, May 10, 2015. I am referring, of course, to the Cat Parade in Ypres, Belgium. This event has deep roots in cat history, and it is no ordinary parade. Yes, it features dignitaries, music, dancing, and floats, but most of the festivities are all about cats: cats in history, cats in language and legends, cats around the world. After the parade, some toy cats are thrown off a belfry tower, and the whole thing ends with the burning of a witch promptly at 7:00 p.m. (those crazy Belgians!).

A bit of recent history

Celebrations centering on cats were held in Ypres in 1938 and 1946 (the interruption in between was due to World War II). These both included toy cats being thrown from the belfry tower of the famous Cloth Hall. Then in 1955, the larger Cat Parade event got its start, complete with 1,500 costumed extras.

These days, the parade and other events are all in good fun, and no cats are harmed. But it was not always so.

The Middle Ages

The Ypres Kattenstoet has its deepest origins in the Middle Ages, when so-called “cat fairs” included the torturing and killing of cats. These sorts of fairs were held in many places, not just Ypres. For whatever reason (fear, superstition, a surplus of cats), lots of people got a kick out of killing cats back then.

But why throw cats off a tower? According to the Kattenstoet website, it may have been a simple matter of expediency. Ypres was known for its cloth and had a lot of it in storage, but wool and cloth attracted mice that destroyed it. Enter the cats, which were set loose in the Cloth Hall to control the mice--but no one had thought about controlling the cats. Those cats naturally had lots of kittens, and soon enough cats were the new overpopulated pest. The easiest way to control them seemed to be to carry them up to the tower and throw them to their deaths. (This seems like a weird solution to me, but people do weird things all the time, so who knows? It might be true.)

Sometimes the cats survived the fall, and some people (Tabor, p. 44) have speculated that the true reason for the cat-throwing ritual was to demonstrate cats’ supernatural abilities. We may never know the true reason for tossing live cats from a high place, but the practice ended after 1817. The very last live cat was thrown from the tower in that year, and it survived. Since then, any cat throwing has been done only with toy cats.

The giant cat Minneke Poes appears
in the 2012 Cat Parade.
By Zeisterre [CC BY-SA 3.0],

The 44th Cat Parade

This year marks the 44th modern Cat Parade, and according to the program, visitors will be treated to quite an event. They will see how cats were worshipped in ancient Egypt and condemned in the Middle Ages; the acting out of Flemish sayings related to cats; and some world-famous cats, including Garfield. They will also see two giant cats: Cieper in his snazzy top hat and Minneke Poes (Pussycat) in her lovely gown.

Oh, to be a cat in a window as this parade passes by!

For more information, visit the Kattentstoet website: http://www.kattenstoet.be

Sources


Tabor, Roger. Cats: The Rise of the Cat. London: BBC Books, 1991.

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