Traditional processions of huge effigies of giants, animals or dragons encompass an original ensemble of festive popular manifestations and ritual representations. These effigies first appeared in urban religious processions at the end of the fourteenth century in many European towns and continue to serve as emblems of identity for certain Belgian (Ath, Brussels, Dendermonde, Mechelen and Mons) and French towns (Cassel, Douai, Pézenas and Tarascon), where they remain living traditions.
Performance and construction of giants
The performances, often mixing secular procession and religious ceremony, vary from town to town, but always follow a precise ritual in which the giants relate to the history, legend or life of the town.
The construction of a giant and its ongoing maintenance require months of work and know-how in many techniques given the range of materials used. Although these expressions are not threatened with immediate disappearance, they do suffer from a number of pressures, such as major changes to town centres and increasing tourism, leading to the detriment of the popular, spontaneous nature of the festival.
Belgium has nearly 1500 giants on its soil. Their appearance dates back to the 15th century; Goliath of Nivelles, which is mentioned as early as 1457, is the oldest known Belgian giant. The Belgians also have the largest giant in Europe, Jean Turpin of Nieuwpoort, which exceeds 11 meters.
The Giant is one of the symbols of the region Nord-Pas-de-Calais. It is the object of ancestral cultural practices that are still kept alive. Present at regional festivals and events, he represents the northern community. The region currently has more than 450 giants, spread over the whole territory.
There are nevertheless more dynamic intra-regional zones, located around central points. The Flemish part of the region is a land of giants; each city has one or more of them. Examples include Reuze Papa and Reuze Maman of Cassel, Tisje Tasje of Hazebrouck, Jean de Bûcheron and La Belle Hélène in Steenvoorde, and Totor of Steenwerck.
In the South, in the Languedoc region, there is the Pézenas colt, and in the Provence, the tarasque of Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône).