Historical survey 175 years of Ghent Festivities

In the 19th century, every neighbourhood or district boasted its proper festivity every Sunday, during which the beer was flowing abundantly. The "common people" worked extremely hard during six days a week, often for a pittance. The absenteeism in the factories, on Monday morning, was remarkably high.

One large festivity for everyone

In 1843, the Municipality decided to reunite all festivities into one single "General Fair". Thus, the industrialists tried to avoid the absence of their work force on Mondays.
The first General Fairs were held in Sint-Denijs-Westrem, at the site of the contemporary trade fair "Flanders Expo" . Most of the funds were spend on horse races, the common people had to be satisfied with the balance. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the festivities moved to the city center, among others for the traditional "Bal Populaire" on the imposing Kouter. The aristocracy gathered at the nicely paved side of the square, the 'populace' on the dusty, unpaved side. In time, the Ball developed into one large popular festivity.

Too much competition

During the first half of the 20th century, the two World Wars threw a spanner. Following World War I,  the Ghent Festivities were inspired by individuals such as popular singer Karel Waerie and revue star  Henri Van Daele; following World War II they completely went down. The programme was not renovated, and moreover the Ghent citizens could afford themselves other 'luxuries'.

They purchased a car and the Belgian coast side as well as the foreign countries became the holiday destinations. Everybody left the town, Ghent was deserted during its proper Festivities.

Revival of the Ghent Festivities!

At the end of the sixties, some counterculturists inspired new life into the Ghent Festivities. They gathered around the pub Trefpunt (Bij Sint-Jacobs) for a modest popular festivity filled with atmosphere, hospitality and music. The Turkish community was also invited to participate..
It was an immediate success: 1969 is generally considered as the 'new start' for the Ghent Festivities. The Groentenmarkt and the Korenmarkt followed the example. Gradually, the interest of the Ghent citizens for their proper Festivities revived. Even the Municipality, hostile towards the 'hippies' of Trefpunt, organized its proper festivities at Sint-Baafsplein albeit with a distinct proper style of uninspired entertainment.
In the seventies and eighties, the Ghent Festivities kept on expanding. Hundreds of thousands of visitors came to party year after year. Everyone wanted to have a piece of the pie: pub owners, traders, frying sausage vendors. The Festivities had the nasty reputation of having become a "beer and white pudding fair". It was time for a turnabout.

Ghent, effervescent city of culture

At the beginning of the nineties, the Municipality decided to devote more attention towards the cultural level of the Ghent Festivities. The "International Puppet buskers festival" and the  "International Street Theatre Festival" became the new showpieces. Today, the Ghent Festivities have become the largest cultural open air festival in Europe. For 10 days on end, comprising 4 international festivals: Street Theatre Festival (named MiramirO since 2008), the Puppet buskers festival, the dance-festival 10 Days Off and, since 2002, the Blue Note Records Festival (named Ghent Jazz Festival since 2008). Cost-free music on nearly every square and hundreds of  indoor activities. A singular event to cherish!

Check this site for images and timeline.

Stay informed

Subscribe to our newsletter

The city of Ghent will treat the personal data you provide with respect for your privacy.