The Ypres Cat Festival

This 1959 stamp depicts a jester juggling little cats. In earlier times, the city of Ypres (Flemish for leper) in Belgium was a center for the wool trade. The wool was collected in the town’s huge Cloth Hall before sale, where it attracted hungry rodents. Cats were used to control their numbers until all the wool had been sold. No longer needed, the cats were thrown from the tower -- a job that fell to the town jester.

This barbaric practice ceased in 1817, being replaced in modern times by a festival celebrating the history and tradition of the cat. It opens on Saturday evening with witches, cats, carnival floats, and bands processing through the town. Later there is a fireworks display on the town ramparts. The main event, on Sunday, consists of a huge procession that can take two hours to pass. There are several marching bands, numerous floats, flag throwers and stilt walkers.

The 2003 Festival included themes such as Cat Worship in History, The Cat in Language and Legend, The Cat around the World, The Ypres Cat,  and The Condemnation of Cats and Witches.  Each section was introduced by children carrying placards and balloons with cat faces. Everyone was made up with cat features. The jester appeared on a little platform high above the crowd on the Cloth Hall Tower, and toy cats were tossed down to the crowd. To round off the evening, witches were burned in the town square.

Tickets may be purchased in advance for a seat in the main square to view the procession, but arrangements should be made months ahead, as it is heavily booked and there are not many hotels in Ypres. The Cat Festival is held every third year on the second Sunday in May. For more information about the Festival, visit Wikipedia -- Festival of the Cats.

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