When the three-day Aalst Carnaval begins each year on the Sunday before the Christian Lent, it is the culmination of a year of preparation by the inhabitants of this city in East Flanders in northern Belgium. Exuberant and satirical, the celebration features a Prince Carnaval, who symbolically becomes mayor and receives the key to the city in a ceremony marked by ridicule of the citys actual politicians; a procession of effigies of giants and Bayard, the horse from the Charlemagne legends; a broom dance in the central market to chase away the ghosts of winter; a parade of young men dressed as women with corsets, prams and broken umbrellas and a ritual burning of the carnival effigy - accompanied by shouts insisting that the feast will go on for another night. In addition to the carefully-prepared floats of official entrants, informal groups join the festivities to offer mocking interpretations of local and world events of the past year. The 600-year-old ritual, drawing up to 100,000 spectators, is a collective effort of all social classes and a symbol of the towns identity in the region. Constantly recreated by new generations, the ancient carnivals collective laughter and slightly subversive atmosphere celebrate the unity of Aalst.
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