Dendermonde celebrates cancelled once-in-a-decade event

Summary

The 10-yearly Ros Beiaard procession should have taken place on Sunday but had to be cancelled due to coronavirus. Many locals gathered on the Grote Markt to celebrate anyway

Emotional day

Sunday should have seen the centuries-old procession of the Ros Beiaard on Dendermonde’s market square. The Unesco-recognised event takes place only once every 10 years and has great significance for locals. This year, the coronavirus measures mean it has had to be postponed until 2021, but many city residents decided to celebrate anyway.

Scores of people gathered in the city centre to mark the occasion. “The parade couldn’t happen because of coronavirus and every resident of Dendermonde understands that. Today a few of them came together, but in a very disciplined way,” mayor Piet Buyse said after footage of the celebrations were broadcast and criticised.

“I came out myself and sang the city hymn with my neighbours at a safe distance,” he said. “This is a very emotional day and everyone understands that the Ommegang [parade] can’t take place, but every resident still wanted to do something today. Hence the flags and singing of the hymn. Yes, lots of people gathered on the Grote Markt, but I know my square and there were certainly not 1,000 people there.”

The Ros Beiaard, or Bayard Steed, parade has its roots in a medieval saga about four brothers and a mythical horse. The horse at the centre of today’s event is decorated in the city’s colours and ridden by four local brothers. It is 5m high and its carved wooden head dates back to 1600.

Symbolism

The Pijnders, the guild that organises the procession, had called on residents to display flags on their houses and to sing the traditional Ros Beiaard song at 14.30. “These people have obviously counted down to that,” virologist Marc Van Ranst told De Standaard. “I participated myself, because my family is from there. So I fully understand the symbolism. But it is just stupid to stand there with so many people.”

Buyse denied that people ignored distancing rules. “Yes, some people stood close to each other, but that was within their bubble, like if they were going walking together in shopping streets or in parks or on the canal. You can also hug and touch people in your bubble. Anyone who wasn’t part of a bubble kept their distance.”

Epidemiology professor Pierre Van Damme told VTM Nieuws: “This is not what we like to see. You do feel that people know they have to keep their distance, but then I would have expected them to wear a mask, as a happy medium. If we see this more often, for example at the coast, we will have to oblige people to wear a mask on the street and in supermarkets.”

The 2020 edition of the parade, with a programme of street theatre, live music and other entertainment, has been rescheduled for 30 May 2021.

Photo: Drone footage of the Grote Markt in Dendermonde
Courtesy VRT